PETER COOPER Peter Cooper is an East Nashville-based singer, songwriter, touring artist, sideman, producer, college professor, and award-winning journalist. In his spare time, he watches sports on television. His debut album, "Mission Door," was praised by the Washington Post, American Songwriter, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and some fellows who know a thing or two about songwriting, like Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, and Todd Snider.
"Mission Door" is the work of a man who's spent the better part of his adult life as a music writer and critic for The Tennessean newspaper, Esquire, No Depression, Mix magazine, and the Encyclopedia Britannica, among many others. His published work conveys a fan's enthusiasm and a scholar's knowledge. And so why not quit right there? After all, there's a notion that folks who write about music just aren't that good at making it. Well, Cooper's not just good at it. He's great at it. And the masters agree:
"Peter Cooper looks at the world with an artist's eye and a human heart and soul. His songs are the work of an original, creative imagination, alive with humor and heartbreak and irony and intelligence, with truth and beauty in the details. Deep stuff. And they get better every time you listen to them." --Kris Kristofferson
For the "Mission Door" sessions, Cooper gathered a collection of his favorite musicians at Nashville's fabled House of David studio, and set out to make something different. He knew he wanted to give prominence to the pedal steel guitar of Lloyd Green, for whom the word "legendary" is an understatement. Green has played on more than 100 No. 1 country songs, was featured on the groundbreaking "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album by the Byrds, as well as key works by Charley Pride, Don Williams, Tammy Wynette, Nanci Griffith, and Paul McCartney. But "Mission Door" isn't a country album. It's simply a musical collaboration between a great songwriter and a great steel player. From his pin-your-ears-back solo on "All The Way To Heaven" to the staggering beauty of his parts on "Wine" and "Thin Wild Mercury," Green is an elegant revolutionary, reinventing the instrument that he helped to dignify in the first place. He retired in the late 1980s and only recently returned to record with Alan Jackson, Nanci Griffith, Steve Wariner and plenty of chart-toppers. But Green calls "Mission Door" something far beyond the usual workings of Music Row: "This album is the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying music I've been a part of since returning to the arena," Green said. "This one was as special to me as any I've been a part of."
Cooper's other collaborators on "Mission Door" are stellar in their own right: Jason Ringenberg of Jason & the Scorchers played harmonica; Bill Lloyd, known for his work with Foster & Lloyd and as a hit country songwriter, played electric guitar and sang harmonies; Jen Gunderma - formerly of The Jayhawks and currently of Last Train Home - pitched in on piano, Wurlitzer and accordion; Dave Roe, who has toured in the bands of Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam, laid down acoustic and electric bass lines; and ace percussionists Pat McInerney (Nanci Griffith, Don Williams) and Paul Griffith (Todd Snider) completed the rhythm section. On a version of the Eric Taylor-penned "Mission Door," Snider, Nanci Griffith and Fayssoux McLean (who provided harmony vocals on some of Emmylou Harris's finest albums) all took verses.
Following the success of "Mission Door," Cooper began touring with fellow East Nashvillian Eric Brace, songwriter and frontman of the acclaimed roots rock band, Last Train Home, and before long, the two were in the studio together, where they recorded their first duo project, "You Don't Have to Like Them Both." That release was top ten on the Americana and Folk DJ charts and number one on the Freeform American Roots chart. It included songs they wrote as well as tunes by Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider, Kris Kristofferson, Karl Straub, and Paul Kennerly. The core band was Lloyd Green, on pedal steel guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards and accordion, Paul Griffith on drums, and Dave Roe on upright bass. The recording also features Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien, guitar kings Richard Bennett (Mark Knopfler, Steve Earle), Tim Carroll (Elizabeth Cook), and KennyVaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), singer-songwriter Jon Byrd, Daniel Tashian (The Bees, The Silver Seas) on ukulele, and Scotty Huff (The Mavericks, Keith Urban) playing a bit of flugelhorn.
The pair's second release, "Master Sessions" (Sept. 2010) was built around two of Brace & Cooper's instrumental heroes, pedal steel legend Lloyd Green and dobro ace Mike Auldridge, who were great mutual admirers but had never recorded an album together until this one. They surrounded Mike and Lloyd with the most talented and sympathetic musicians they know. And the result is a work of stunning beauty that Mike and Lloyd include among the most fulfilling recordings they've ever made. In addition to Lloyd Green and Mike Auldridge, the players were: Richard Bennett on guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards and accordion, Pat McInerney on drums, and Dave Roe on upright bass. The recording also features harmonies by Kenny Chesney (yep, that one), Julie Lee, and Jon Randall.
Being released at the same time as "Master Sessions" is Peter Cooper's "The Lloyd Green Album," another chapter in his ongoing collaboration with the Pedal Steel Hall of Famer. Lloyd's signature sound is part of the fiber of American popular music, and yet he's never before been heard as he is on this record. Peter recorded each song with just vocals and acoustic guitar, then turned them over to Lloyd, who composed veritable steel guitar symphonies to go along with the words and melodies. words and melodies. Only after Lloyd's parts were recorded did guitarist Richard Bennett, keyboard and accordion player Jen Gunderman, and percussionists Pat McInerney and Mark Horn enter the picture. And after that came harmony vocals from Kim Carnes, Rodney Crowell, Pam Rose, Fayssoux Starling McLean, Julie Lee, and Eric Brace.
"The Lloyd Green Album" offers new perspectives on Lloyd's tone, deft technique, and good humor (check out his grinning steel outro on "The Last Laugh"). Most of the songs are Peter Cooper originals, though he was also quick to raid the song stashes of Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Richards, John Hiatt, and the team of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell (the latter joins in on a decades-old beauty he wrote with Harris called "Tulsa Queen"). Peter's first track, "Dumb Luck," is a good-natured autobiography, while "The Last Laugh" is a doomsday prophecy written with brilliant troubadour Todd Snider. The album concludes with the Hiatt-penned epitaph "Train To Birmingham," and along the way Peter and Lloyd provide stops at a long-lost polka bar ("Elmer The Dancer") and an Oklahoma cafe ("Here Comes That Rainbow Again"), and windows into the worlds of sad sack sinners ("Gospel Song," "That Poor Guy") and joyful anomalies ("Champion of the World," "What Dub Does"). The Lloyd Green album is a marriage of songs and sounds that defies convention and embraces originality, invention, and beauty.
ERIC BRACE Whether with his band Last Train Home or with his duo with Peter Cooper, singer/songwriter Eric Brace is one of the most acclaimed artists in the Americana world.
His latest release, "Master Sessions" (with Peter Cooper) is garnering the best reviews of Brace's career. Its evocative songs and its astonishing instrumental work, courtesy of pedal steel legend Lloyd Green and dobro ace Mike Auldridge, are raising eyebrows and catching ears worldwide.
Since 1997, Eric Brace has been the frontman and songwriter for the acclaimed roots-rock band Last Train Home. With eight CDs and one live concert DVD to its credit, LTH is one of the most prolific and admired bands in the Americana music world.
At the core of the band's sound are Eric's evocative songs and his warm voice. "Brace's tenor, when combined with his lyrics which evoke endless late nights on the prairies without ever specifically referring to them, is one of the treasures of the whole Americana genre," says roots-rock great Sid Griffin (Long Ryders, Coal Porters) in a review in the peerless British music magazine MOJO. The Washington Post proclaims that "Brace hasn't let years of grueling road work compromise his songcraft," while the British audiophile magazine Hi-Fi Plus lauds Eric's "great grasp of melody and song structure."
Eric's other main musical outlet is his duo work with Peter Cooper. Cooper, who has his own solo career as a singer/songwriter, is also the music writer for Nashville's Tennessean newspaper. When Eric moved to Nashville in 2004, the two became fast friends, a friendship solidified in Peter's living room listening to Tom T. Hall, Willis Alan Ramsey, the Seldom Scene, Charley Pride, and Bear Family box sets while pouring screw top red wine. There were so many influences in common, it was inevitable that they'd soon be performing live together.
The first Brace-Cooper duo release, "You Don't Have to Like Them Both" (Red Beet Records, 2009) had Eric stepping away for the first time from the comfortable surroundings of Last Train Home. Their release was top ten on the Americana and Folk DJ charts and number one on the Freeform American Roots chart. It's lead track, Brace's "I Know a Bird," was a #1 Folk song upon its release. In addition to originals penned by Brace & Cooper, the album included songs by Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider, Kris Kristofferson, Karl Straub, and Paul Kennerly. The core band was Pedal Steel Hall of Famer Lloyd Green, Jen Gunderman (The Jayhawks, Last Train Home) on keyboards and accordion, Paul Griffith (Todd Snider) on drums, and Dave Roe (Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson) on upright bass. The recording also features Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist Tim O'Brien, guitar kings Richard Bennett (Mark Knopfler, Steve Earle), Tim Carroll (Elizabeth Cook), and KennyVaughan (Marty Stuart, Lucinda Williams), singer-songwriter Jon Byrd, Daniel Tashian (The Bees, The Silver Seas) on ukulele, and Scotty Huff (The Mavericks, Keith Urban) playing a bit of flugelhorn.
The pair's second release, "Master Sessions" (Sept. 2010) was a great excuse to go into the studio with two of Brace & Cooper's instrumental heroes, pedal steel legend Lloyd Green and dobro ace Mike Auldridge, who were great mutual admirers but had never recorded an album together until this one. They surrounded Mike and Lloyd with the most talented and sympathetic musicians they know. And the result is a work of stunning beauty that Mike and Lloyd include among the most fulfilling recordings they've ever made. In addition to Lloyd Green and Mike Auldridge, the players were: Richard Bennett on guitar, Jen Gunderman on keyboards and accordion, Pat McInerney on drums, and Dave Roe on upright bass. The recording also features harmonies by Kenny Chesney (yep, that one), Julie Lee, and Jon Randall. For that release, they recorded songs of theirs, but also tunes by Jim Lauderdale, Todd Snider, Kris Kristofferson, and others.
The collaboration with Peter Cooper is the second of Eric's non-LTH projects, the first being the 2006 release "The Skylighters." That's Eric, plus bluegrass legends Mike Auldridge (dobro, pedal steel) and Jimmy Gaudreau (mandolin, guitar), along with the LTH rhythm section of Jim Gray and Martin Lynds. That record is a lively mix of bluegrass, country, western swing and more.
Besides keeping LTH rolling down the track, Eric's got several other collaborations and solo projects in the works. One currently on the front burner is a musical (or song cycle or concept album or whatever you want to call it) about the California Gold Rush. It's a collaboration with Washington DC songwriter Karl Straub (whose songs "Tonight," "It Doesn't Matter," "They Dance Real Close There," and "Soul Parking" have been recorded by LTH).
This whole musical path started when Eric played in a Boston-area bluegrass band, the Mystic Valley Mountaneers, while in college. Back in Washington DC in the '80s he formed the guitar-pop/indie-rock band B-Time with his brother Alan Brace. A more roots oriented band, the Beggars, followed in the early '90s, again with Alan, LTH steel player Dave Van Allen, singer Alice Despard, ex-Neighbor guitarist John Moremen, and others. Eric also spent several years playing bass with Kevin Johnson & the Linemen. During that same period, Eric ran the Washington-area label Top Records, releasing a dozen albums by DC bands Carnival of Souls, the New Keys, Sleep of Reason, Not Even, and more.
From 1992 to 2002, Eric was a columnist for The Washington Post, covering first the local arts scene, then the area's nightlife and live music world. In 1997, the self-titled "Last Train Home" CD was released, and it was just a matter of time before word got out to the point where Eric could take LTH on the road full-time. That happened in 2003, the same year that LTH won the Washington Area Music Association's Wammie award for "Artist of the Year." Since then, the band has appeared on the CBS's "Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson," the syndicated public radio program "Mountain Stage," and on stage opening for the likes of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.
Living in Nashville has led to recognition of Eric's strengths as a songwriter, and he has collaborated with some of Nashville's finest writers, such as Jim Lauderdale, Walter Egan, Peter Cooper, and Amelia White. He formed the Red Beet Records label, releasing three compilation CDs of music from a variety of splendid East Nashville musicians, as well as Peter Cooper's "Mission Door" and "The Lloyd Green Album, and Fayssoux Starling McLean's "Early."