Eric Brace & Peter Cooper,
You Don't Have to Like Them Both
(Red Beet, 2008)

You Don't Have to Like Them Both, but it's not hard to. Eric Brace and Peter Cooper aren't the Everly or the Delmore or the Louvin Brothers, and they're not even siblings. Nor, one should add, are they imitators of any of the just-mentioned, even if the Everlys once covered a song also done here (and quite nicely), Paul Kennerley's "The First in Line." But Brace & Cooper have taken lessons from the masters, using them to fashion their own country-flavored folk sound.

Much of this owes to the style that developed in the mid-1960s, after some of the period's folk singers, having exhausted all the traditional tunes they knew or cared to know, started composing their own material even as trad music remained a notable influence. That sort of redefined "folk music" amounted to a new (however rooted) pop genre, and it has proved remarkably resilient. It thrives among the independent-minded pickers (Brace & Cooper among them) of East Nashville, a geographical setting not to be confused with the other side of town, where their commercial counterparts cut the hits, not to mention the heart, out of country music.

Music journalists turned musicians, Brace & Cooper write songs but also keep their ears open to what others have to say. Thus, while their record features their intelligently crafted originals, most cuts -- eight of the 12 -- are courtesy of other sources, from tradition ("Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still," as lovely as its title) to Kris Kristofferson ("Just the Other Side of Nowhere," delivered as convincingly as I've heard anywhere). The opening cut, Brace's "I Know a Bird," has the atmospherics of 19th-century Appalachia, and not just because of Tim O'Brien's old-time banjo. Cooper's decidedly more contemporary "The Man Who Loves to Hate" dissects the psyche of the white male, ordinarily described as "angry," who judges Rush Limbaugh a wise guide to politics and life.

Brace & Cooper are distinctive vocalists and exceptional harmony singers. Smooth in the best sense, their approach recalls what Emmylou Harris once sounded like, before her music evolved from country and folk roots to urban folk-rock. The formula is hardly unfamiliar -- solid songs made of strong lyrics and hummable melodies, performed on acoustic guitars, and backed by sympathetic accompanying players -- but the result is pleasing indeed. There's good reason, in short, to like both of them and, for that matter, all others responsible for bringing these engaging sounds to our ears.

review by
Jerome Clark

23 May 2009

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