I am really glad Eric Brace – long a writer for the Washington Post and front man for his D.C. based roots rock band, Last Train Home – decided to move to Nashville ten years ago. If he hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t have met Peter Cooper, and the Americana world would have suffered for it.
Brace – singer, songwriter, and founder/owner of Red Beet Records – and Cooper – singer, songwriter, Vanderbilt University professor, and writer for The Tennessean – have been churning out some of my favorite records of the last five years or so.
Spin a Brace and Cooper record and Americana eras collide. The duo writes and sings with the likes of Jim Lauderdale and Todd Snider while featuring venerable Americana instrumentalists like pedal steel master Lloyd Green and the late, great dobro player, Mike Auldridge. Brace and Cooper also co-produced I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, a tribute to Hall’s 1974 masterpiece, Songs of Fox Hollow. The recording included icons like Patty Griffin and Bobby Bare and garnered Brace and Cooper a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album. Such commitment to both past and present is not lost on me.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to stay up into the wee hours of the morning with these two East Nashville stalwarts. Over gourmet cupcakes and some of Kentucky’s finest bourbon, our conversation meandered through amazing musicians, great songs and songwriters, and the business of modern country. More recently, I shot the duo a list of questions to answer about each other. Their answers justify the providence of their meeting and prove that each is the yin to the other’s yang.
BRO – First word that comes to mind when you think of your cohort?
PC – Avuncular. (Writer’s note – I had to look that up. Means “having qualities of an uncle.” I agree. Eric is uncleish.)
EB – Taller. (Writer’s note –I didn’t have to look this one up, but I did find out that Eric is 6’3”, so this is saying something.)
BRO – Favorite song written by your cohort?
EB – “Elmer The Dancer,” off of Peter’s solo record The Lloyd Green Album that I released on my Red Beet Records label in 2010. It’s life and love and music and old ways and new ways and change and death and beauty and dancing. Can’t beat it.
PC – “Hendersonville,” because it works as a lovely tribute to John and June Carter Cash yet also manages to delve into the reasons for making music. “Hendersonville” is a song that is small and tight, and then gets bigger, until we all realize we are in the same frame.
BRO – Better on the road iPod disc jockey?
PC – We use CDs rather than iPods because of the sound quality. I’d say I’m the better on the road disc jockey, because I have better classic country and Everly Brother collections.
EB – Peter, by far. He knows a zillion songs and has them all at his fingertips, and he always finds the right ones for whatever road trip we are on. If it’s not song time, we turn on Marc Maron’s podcasts or MLB games. Anything to keep Peter from talking.
BRO – If not cowboy boots, then . . . .
EB – Big, doofy sneakers. Peter says they’re comfortable.
PC – Really ugly, but really comfortable, running shoes, like Willie Nelson wore in the ‘70s.
BRO – Best part of playing with your cohort?
PC – Eric has a big, warm voice that makes it hard to mess up a harmony. It’s like someone cushioned the guard rails that I would otherwise be slamming into.
EB – Singing close harmony throughout so many songs. It’s a rare thing, and not many people do it these days, or can do it, and Peter’s great at that. Plus, standing next to him makes me look like Brad Pitt. Without the hair.
BRO – Cupcakes or bourbon?
EB – Bourbon, unless it is 2 A.M. after a gig. Then it’s bourbon AND cupcakes. Together, mashed up in a bowl. Seriously. We love that.
PC – Bourbon cupcakes. That was easy.
You can check out “Boxcars” from The Comeback Album, Brace and Cooper’s most recent release, on this month’s Trail Mix. For information on upcoming shows or to order up any of their excellent recordings, surf over to www.redbeetrecords.com.