Artist: Eric Brace & Peter Cooper
Album: C&O Canal
Label: Red Beet Records
Release Date: 01/22/2016
Eric Brace and Peter Cooper document their impressionistic experiences in the thriving folk and bluegrass scene in the Washington D.C. area of the seventies. Both the title track and “He Rode All the Way to Texas” were penned by John Starling of the Seldom Scene, one of the all-time great (and certainly my favorite) bluegrass bands. I immediately went to their classic album, Live at the Cellar Door, on which both of those tunes appear. Back to Brace and Cooper though… C&O Canal is a worthy, likely long in the making, concept, paying tribute to the music that moved them at an early age. Their well-written liner notes reference the fabled venues: Alexandria’s Birchmere, the aforementioned Cellar Door, Gallagher’s, the Red Fox Inn, the Tiffany Tavern, and, of course, the house party stairwell. Interestingly enough, while both grew up in D.C. area, Brace and Cooper did not meet until years later in Nashville, where they both now reside.
As with Peter Cooper’s latest effort, Depot Light, this features many of the same gifted players: producer and guitarist Thomm Jutz, violinist Andrea Zonn and multi-string man Justin Moses, among others. Together, they deliver some deft picking and uplifting harmonies that nod to those who began their musical careers in D.C., such as Mary Chapin Carpenter (“John Wilkes Booth”), followed by Emmylou Harris’s stirring “Boulder to Birmingham,” where Zonn joins on vocals. Other notables include Joe Triplett’s “Been Awhile” with Moses’ dobro, John Jackson’s “Boat’s Up the River” with Jutz’s stellar fingerpicking and Ralph Stanley’s “If That’s the Way You Feel,” accented by the lovely interplay between Zonn’s fiddle, Jutz’s guitar and Jeff Taylor’s accordion. It’s a choice selection of bluegrass and folk music (only 34 minutes in total) that demonstrates why D.C. once held the informal title of “Bluegrass Capital of the World.” If you’re not familiar with the Grammy-nominated Brace and Cooper, be assured, as in all of their previous efforts, they deliver this music honorably. For more information on Peter’s and Eric’s thoughts on the songs, the Red Beet Records website.
– Jim Hynes