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The Graham Album Review #2196

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Dana Cooper: The Ghost of Tucumcari

(independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/8/2024)

Music is kept alive and moving forward creatively by the constant infusion of new blood, younger artists who bring something new and different to the music, being relevant to their generation. But there’s something to be said for the long-time veterans, artists to continue to make worthwhile new music, rather than just playing their hits, or doing cover tunes. Those folks are fairly rare, artists who can maintain a high level of creativity over decades. There are some well-known examples like Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Bonnie Raitt. This week, we have another notable example. It’s the new 32nd studio album by singer-songwriter Dana Cooper. The recording is called The Ghost of Tucumcari.

Dana Cooper got his start early when at age 2, his father would take him to a bar and listen to songs on the jukebox. He sang along with records as a boy, and became fascinated with the guitar. By his teens, he was performing in coffeehouses. He dropped out of college to pursue his dream of trying to get into the music business in Los Angeles. He was signed to Elektra Records which released his eponymous debut album in 1973. And he has been making records ever since, often collaborating with others, and touring the folk club and coffeehouse scene and sharing the stage with artists like Lyle Lovett, Susan Werner and Kim Carnes. He formed a long-running musical association with fellow singer-songwriter Shake Russell. Cooper’s last album, I Can Face the Truth from 2022, which we also reviewed in this series, was done around the time of the pandemic, so musicians were separated and for the most part, recorded individually. The new album features quite a few guests, including Lyle Lovett, and Shake Russell, along with Susan Gibson and David Starr. The band on this includes several of the players who were on I Can Face the Truth including electric guitarist Dave Coleman, Chris Benelli on drums, and Paul Slivka on bass. The new album has some additional players, with the pandemic behind us, and it was mostly recorded in Nashville, but features additional sessions in studios in Texas and Ireland. The arrangements run from intimate acoustic guitar to more rock-oriented band tracks. Some of the tunes have some steel guitar to give them a little country twang. Cooper says that the compositions on the album span most of his 50 plus year career as a songwriter. And in a Nashville tradition, several of the songs are co-writes with others, including Shake Russell, and notable folk artist Tom Prasada-Rao.

Opening the 11-song album is a tune inspired by the pandemic, and seeking a return to normality, Start the World Again. <<>>

Lyle Lovett makes a guest appearance on the title track The Ghost of Tucumcari which as the lyrics suggests is a kind of musical ghost story, though it’s about a feral cat who moves mysteriously in a neighborhood. << >>

One of the more rock-oriented tracks is also one of Cooper’s trademark observations of the world. The song is called Children of a Common Mother, and it’s a plea for some degree of unity. <<>>

Along the same lines is What Is Love Waiting For another appeal for a better world. <<>>

Combining a strong rock & roll backing and some oblique biblical references is a song called Goin’ Down Judah. <<>>

One of the more appealing tracks is Song for Myself which is a kind of love song, about the complications of love. The co-lead vocalist is Gillian Tuite.<<>>

Taking a philosophical bent is one of the more laid back tracks, Beauty and Ruin, featuring guest vocals from Mando Saenz, and the song’s co-writer David Starr. <<>>

Cooper also includes a cover of one of the most famous of folk songs, Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land which features a succession of vocal cameos, including from Lyle Lovett, Darden Smith and Shake Russell. Cooper and company take the song fairly straight, giving it an almost march-like beat. <<>>

Dana Cooper is one of those artists who just keeps going on, making one high quality album after another. The Ghost of Tucumcari is his 32nd. He may not be a household name, but he is well-known in the singer-songwriter community, and his songs have been covered by others. The new album maintains his style with thoughtful, but direct lyrics. He is not known for poetic ambiguity. He addresses variety of topics and manages to avoid the cliches. As usual, the production and instrumental backing on his album are tasteful and enhance the songs. The various guest vocalists are a nice touch, but in my view don’t add all that much to the material, which stands very well on its own.

Our grade of audio quality is about a B+, with good clarity and a mix that has everything in the right place. But as is so often the case, the dynamics of the performances are undermined by volume compression.

The music world can be fickle, with careers that can last months or decades. Dana Cooper has been at it for a half century now, and is still coming up with worthwhile new material.

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<<>> indicates audio excerpt played in produced radio review

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This page last updated May 13, 2024