Release Date: November 2015

“My new album, Depot Light: Songs of Eric Taylor. Best thing I'll ever do, most likely. I'm amazed by these songs, and at the guitar work and musical vision of my friend, Thomm Jutz. “ – Peter Cooper

Peter Cooper’s Depot Light: Songs of Eric Taylor

REVIEWS
 

3rd Coast Music – November 2015

Set to

  ERIC TAYLOR wrote them

  PETER COOPER sings them

#226/315 November 2015

Written by John Conquest - Photo by Ramcey Rodriguez

Sometime in the mid-80s, Wes McGhee, returning from one of his trips to Texas, gave me an LP entitled Shameless Love (Featherbed, 1981), and I’ve been an Eric Taylor fan ever since. Amazingly, Susan Lindfors Taylor, wife/booker/manager, who keep the home fires burning during what seems like perpetual touring, can still sell you a vinyl copy, a steal at $60—over at Amazon they’re asking two hundred bucks. However, after that impressive debut, Taylor abandoned music for 14 years, so I’ve been able to follow the rest of his career in these here pages, reviewing every subsequent album and seeing him live whenever possible. Anytime I can snag him for NotSXSW, his appearance is always a highlight, though I would single out an extraordinary set he shared with Troy Campbell and Michael Weston King as one of the outstanding moments of NotSXSW. He tends to start his touring season round the same time as NotSXSW, so right now Susan can make him no better than a question mark for 2016.


However, much as I admire Taylor as a songwriter and performer, if I ran a record label and one of my artists came up with the idea of an entire album of covers of his songs (but it wouldn’t be a tribute album), I would have my doubts. One song, maybe, but twelve? Seriously? It’s not just, as Acoustic Guitar put it, that “If there’s anything better than Nanci Griffith or Lyle Lovett singing an Eric Taylor tune, it’s Taylor singing it himself,” or even whether another artist has the technical chops to manage the idiosyncratic spacing and unexpected stresses that make Taylor unique, so much as whether they can get anywhere close to the man’s extraordinary intensity. As I said about Live At The Red Shack (Blue Ruby, 2011), you don't just listen to Eric Taylor, you experience him. He is, in a word or five, a tough act to follow.


However, as Cooper points out, Bobby Bare cut an album each of songs by Shel Silverstein and Bob McDill, while Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes was almost entirely written by Billy Joe Shaver. However, for me at least, a better comparison, even though it featured multiple songwriters rather than just one, would be with Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music. Until I read the credits, I had never heard of Hank Williams (or Eddy Arnold, Cindy Walker, Floyd Tillman, Ted Daffen and Don Gibson), but You Win Again alone made me a believer.


Still, nudging people towards Eric Taylor would be a side-effect, albeit a welcome one, for Cooper, who is adamant that this is not a tribute album. “I’m not singing these songs in tribute. I’m singing them because they are the songs I most wanted to sing. Some people, even some people in my troubadour tribe, haven’t heard them before. I hope those people download this thing, or hear it on some streaming service, and assume that I wrote them. My hopes won’t be realized, though. Nobody is going to think I wrote these songs. Hell, no one will think Kristofferson or Tom T Hall or Chuck Berry or Billy Joe Shaver or Patty Griffin or John Prine or Todd Snider wrote them. Eric Taylor songs aren’t in competition with anyone else’s. They are singular, not similar. They exist in their own world.”


Cooper has some prior experience in covering Eric Taylor's songs, his first solo album, Mission Door (RedBeet, 2008) included two of them, All The Way To Heaven and the title track. Apart from his admiration for Taylor’s songwriting, Cooper acknowledges that Taylor’s “notions of rhyme, melody, meter and story shaped and changed the way I think and feel about music.” These insights give him an enormous advantage because Taylor plays by his own rules, and if you don’t understand them or can’t master them, tough luck. However, Cooper says of the twelve songs he selected for Depot Light, “I didn’t make any attempt to sing them the way Eric Taylor would sing them and Thomm [Jutz his co-producer/“conspirator”/guitarist/pianist] kept the essence of his guitar style without at all trying to replicate it.”


While not intentionally setting out to do so, Cooper’s selection covers Eric Taylor’s entire recording career plus a bonus, as he includes a song, More Storms, not to be confused with Storms (on The Great Divide, Blue Ruby, 2005), which Taylor has never officially recorded but was on a guitar and vocals demo tape that Lyle Lovett recorded long ago. Charlie Ray McWhite and Dollar Bill Hines were on Shameless Love, All So Much Like Me, Prison Movie and Deadwood on Eric Taylor (Watermelon, 1995), DepotLight, Two Fires and Louis Armstrong’s Broken Heart on Resurrect (Koch, 1998), Happy Endings on Scuffletown (Eminent, 2001), The Great Divide on The Great Divide and Carnival Jim & Jean on Hollywood Pocketknife (Blue Ruby, 2007). Whoops, I forgot Studio 10 (Blue Ruby, 2013), ah well, virtually Taylor’s entire recording history.


With this album, Cooper has more than doubled the number of covers of Eric Taylor songs. Up to now, only three artists have delved into this rich canon. The earliest was Nanci Griffith, who included Dollar Matinee on her debut There’s A Light Beyond These Woods (Philo,1978), though, of course, she had an inside track, on account of also being Mrs Taylor back then (1976-82). She’s also cut Deadwood, Storms and Ghost In The Music, which she and Taylor cowrote. An early fan, who wrote about Taylor in Texas A&M’s student paper, Lyle Lovett has, over the years, recorded Memphis Midnight/Memphis Morning, Whooping Crane, Understand You and Fat Babies, which they cowrote. The great folksinger June Tabor, another Brit who latched onto Shameless Love, recorded the title track and Joseph Cross in the early 90s.


I really don’t care whether Cooper’s example leads other singer-songwriters to have a shot at covering Eric Taylor songs, other than that I’m sure Eric & Susan would be more than happy to deposit the royalty checks. What would be very satisfactory would be if a) Cooper himself is rewarded with sales, spins and four star reviews, and b) Susan has to spend all day every day selling CDs from the website (she offers everything except Eric Taylor and Resurrect) to people whose interest was piqued by Cooper’s album. If the latter materializes, Peter Cooper, Thomm Jutz, Andrea Zonn, Justin Moses, Joey Miskulin and the other “conspirators and accomplices” would have made a mighty mitzvah.                                                                                                                                 JC