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Dana Cooper: I Can Face the Truth
(Dog Eared Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/2/2022)
On Mixed Bag, I like to do occasional sets I call “still at it after all these years” paraphrasing a line from one of those veteran performers, Paul Simon, who has been making music for a half century and still remaining creative and active. Some of those long running artists are well-known like Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Joan Baez, and even Dion. There are also artists who might not be quite so well-known on the pop scene, but who still stay active and creative. This week we have one such, Dana Cooper, whose new release, close to his 30th, is called I Can Face the Truth.
Originally from the Kansas City area, Dana Cooper was playing in bands at age 12, started writing songs the next year, and in his teens was a regular in coffeehouses. Songwriting and performing were his passion such that he dropped out of a college scholarship to move to Los Angeles to try his hand at the music business. He got himself signed to Elektra Records, which released his debut album in 1973, and he has been at it ever since. Since the late 1980s, he has been based in Nashville, where he has written songs that others have recorded, while maintaining his solo career, with songs known for their astute wordcraft and melodic quality. Some of his songs make commentaries on the state of the world, while others can be more traditional love-songs.
The new album was recorded as the pandemic was unfolding, with the production, which started in late 2019, being halted by the early days of lockdown. But, as many musicians have been doing during the situation, Cooper got contributions from other players virtually, with many adding their parts from their home studios. Cooper also writes about doing sessions with the different musicians in different rooms. Cooper writes that it was liberating in a way, saying “The pandemic afforded us the unusual luxury of time to build each track, experimenting with different instruments and vocal arrangements.” His principal collaborator on the album was multi-instrumentalist Dave Coleman, who played various string and keyboard instruments. Cooper had met Coleman when the latter was an intern working with Cooper at a record label. Also appearing regularly on the album are bassist Paul Sivka and drummer Chris Benelli.
The 13 songs on I Can Face the Truth are marked by Cooper’s clear, direct lyrics, and tunes you can go around humming. Even though it was mostly virtual, the band sounds tight, with the arrangements mostly electric.
Opening is a track called Always Old Friends an appealing song celebrating durable friendships. <<>>
The title piece I Can Face the Truth has one of the best lyrical hooks. It’s a kind of self-examination and ultimately a bit of a cop-out. <<>>
Another strong track is Upside Down Day an appeal for things to be better in the world. <<>>
Ours for a Little While is a love song wrapped up in a philosophical consideration of the ephemeral nature of life. <<>>
Laughing and Crying is another love song, this one about a complicated relationship, done as a melodic waltz. <<>>
Considering the state of the world is Summer in America recalling what could have been the summer of love, and contrasting that with the current rising level of intolerance. <<>>
Along the sames lines is the following song Walls no doubt inspired by Donald Trump’s scheme for a border wall. <<>>
Somewhat unexpectedly, the album includes a cover, in this case of the Hank Williams standard I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Cooper and band put their own stamp on it, and result is quite worthwhile. <<>>
The album ends with more philosophical musings on the song I’m Just Passing Through Here another tune considering the impermanence of life. <<>>
Dana Cooper’s new album, I Can Face the Truth nearly his 30th release in a recording career spanning 49 years, is up to his usual high standards, of articulate, direct well-written songs in a melodic electric context, with a tasteful band -- though a lot of it was done virtually with the album being recorded in the pandemic. Cooper seemed to enjoy that process, allowing time for experimentation, the pandemic coming as it did after the project was started in a way gave Cooper additional time to hone the songs. <<>>
Our grade for sound quality is about an “A-minus” with a generally good mix, but the sound was over-compressed probably in the mastering process, and it has a needlessly in-your-face sound when that was not appropriate for the material on the album that does have a sense of subtlety and dynamics.
With at least 29 albums in a recording career just under a half century, Dana Cooper has tended to be just under the radar for many music fans, but is one of those artists who continues to do exemplary work, and his new album I Can Face the Truth underscores that. It’s a credit to the singer-songwriter genre.
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