Senior Lecturer in Music History and Literature
Luminaries of American song have been lining up of late, praising the debut album from an East Nashville singer-songwriter named Peter Cooper. The reasons for that are both simple – it sounds good – and complex. There’s something different about this thing.
Cooper was 5 years old when he first caught a Kris Kristofferson show. That was on an outdoor stage in Charlotte, N.C., not too far from Cooper’s hometown of Spartanburg, S.C. Something about the experience must have stuck, as Kristofferson’s wordplay and folk-inspired melodies became a touchstone. From there, it was on to Tom T. Hall, Mickey Newbury, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Bobby Bare, Guy Clark, Eric Taylor and others who managed emotional literacy without ever seeming unduly literary. That’s a tough trick. Takes a while to learn, and then you have to figure out how to make it into something other than... well, than that same old trick. Reverence and mimicry are close musical cousins that should not marry. Shouldn’t even snuggle, really.
When Cooper gathered a collection of his favorite musicians at Nashville’s House of David studio – it’s a cool place, with a trap door in the floor that was built so Elvis Presley could come in and out without fans realizing he was in town – he sought to create something different. That kind of seeking begins with the songs but it doesn’t end there. Check this out: Mission Door isn’t a country album, but it has more steel guitar on it than anything released in ages. The steel comes courtesy of co-producer Lloyd Green, perhaps the most famed and important steel man in history. Green played on The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, on Charley Pride’s In Person: Live From Panther Hall album, and on beloved works by Paul McCartney, Don Williams, Nanci Griffith, Tammy Wynette and a slew of others. From his blistering solo on "All The Way To Heaven" to the staggering beauty of his parts on “Wine” and “Thin Wild Mercury,” Green is an elegant revolutionary, reinventing the instrument that he helped to dignify in the first place. He retired in the late 1980s and returned to session playing in the new century, and he has worked in his “second term” with Alan Jackson, Nanci Griffith, Steve Wariner and plenty of chart-toppers. “This album is the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying music I’ve been a part of since returning to the arena,” Green said. “It’s like a long lost relative of the Panther Hall album – there’s that much steel – and yet it’s like nothing I have heard. This one was as special to me as any I’ve been a part of.”