George Graham reviews Dana Cooper's "Incendiary Kid"
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The Graham Album Review #1939

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Dana Cooper: Incendiary Kid
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/4/2018)

With so many singer-songwriters plying their trade on the music scene, there are plenty of long-time veterans, in many cases from the previous era of the folkies from the 1960s and early 1970s who are still making worthwhile music decades on. Some, of course, have become legendary, while others continue to create first-rate new music but with a less prominent profile. This week, we have an excellent example of the latter, Dana Cooper, whose new release is called Incendiary Kid.

Dana Cooper started performing music at an early age growing up around Kansas City, playing in bands at age 12, beginning to write songs at 13, and by 16, was performing regularly at coffeehouses. Dropping out of a college scholarship, he was gigging regularly in the Midwest, when he decided to sell many of his possessions to pull up stakes and move to Los Angeles, where after a few months, he was signed to Elektra Records, which released his debut album in 1973. But like many emerging performers, he held down a series of jobs, from taxi driver to nurse’s aid. Later, he moved to Texas and formed a partnership with another singer-songwriter Shake Russell, with whom he recorded an album back in 1981. In 1988, Cooper moved to Nashville, where he has been based since then, touring and recording over the years, and working with other Nashville songwriters in composing for other performers including Irish singer Maura O’Connell, Pierce Pettis and Susan Werner. We featured two of Cooper’s previous releases, The Conjurer in 2010 and Made of Mud in 2006 in this album review series.

The new recording, Incendiary Kid is his 28th release, and like its predecessors, it’s marked by first-rate songwriting, appealing vocals and tasteful production. Lyrically, Cooper is one of those adept artists who is skillful with a turn of phrase, and whose topics range from more or less conventional love songs to social commentary. He is joined by a small band including producer Thomm Jutz, on various instruments, Dave Francis on bass, Lynn Williams on drums, Justin Moses on fiddle, Dobro and banjo, with other guest musicians and backing vocalists.

The under-40-minute album opens with one of its songs of optimism, Flat Made Round, about recovering from a bad patch. <<>>

Another song with a similarly hopeful outlook is Traveler Too. It’s a kind of epitome of Cooper’ style with great songwriting and his appealing vocal style. <<>>

With Cooper having such a lengthy career, he has a significant back catalog of songs. On recent albums, he has reached into his archive for material. Incendiary Kid, features a song that dates back to 1986, called Bird or a Fish. It’s a sad sounding tune in waltz time, and if taken literally, the lyrics say birds and fishes don’t make very good pets compared to a dog. I suppose you can add your own interpretation to that. <<>>

The title track Incendiary Kid invokes Harry Truman as fellow Missouri native which Cooper has done in previous records. But that’s the starting point for a kind of roundabout love song. <<>>

Another appealing love song is Summertime Woman, which takes a folky-countryish direction with the presence of the fiddle. <<>>

As on his previous albums Dana Cooper makes some observations on the larger world. He had a song inspired by the Iraq war on his album The Conjurer. The results of the 2016 election are considered in his song My America, written in 2017, in a nation under Trump. <<>>

Along the same lines is Making a Killing, which considers the triumph of forces aiming to widen income inequality. <<>>

The album ends with Dance Toward the Light a folky-sounding song that considers mortality with a kind of spiritual stoicism. <<>>

Incendiary Kid, the new 28th album by veteran singer-songwriter Dana Cooper is another fine recording by a durable and consistently high quality artist, who has mastered the form with thoughtful, frequently insightful lyrics, tuneful compositions and an appealing vocal style and musical persona. The album is thoroughly tasteful from end to end with classy, largely acoustic arrangements. It’s the kind of record that though there is little that’s stylistically innovative, is one you won’t get tired of.

Our sound quality grade is an “A” with a clean recording, warmly capturing the arrangements with their acoustic instrumentation and Cooper’s folky tenor vocals, and with the mix conveying the subtleties of the playing.

Dana Cooper has been making albums for 45 years now, and touring worldwide. His consistently high level of quality has been apparent in his work over the years. Incendiary Kid is another feather in the cap of this articulate musical troubadour.

(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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