Grayson Capps, “Scarlett Roses” (Royal Potato Family)

grayson cappsAfter a six-year absence, Grayson Capps has returned with what is arguably his best outing yet. Scarlett Roses features a core band of Capps on vocals, guitar and harmonica; Corky Hughes on guitar (acoustic, electric and lap steel), bass and piano; Rufus Ducote on bass; and Russ Broussard on drums and washboard. Joining in are Trina Shoemaker on percussion and harmony vocals and Dylan LeBlanc on harmony vocals on “New Again.” As with his other releases, Scarlett Roses revolves around Capps’ lyrics. Raw, gritty, evocative, visceral yet intellectual, Capps has a way of writing that cannot be faked; and with a naturally road weary baritone voice that sounds like it has been smoothed over with a taste of honey, Capps’ voice is the perfect instrument for his lyrical style.

The gentle acoustic guitar strumming at the start of “Scarlett Roses” gives way to a shimmering electric guitar before the groove solidifies with a marching band drumbeat. It sets the scene for a story of lost love, a theme that Capps mines frequently. It’s not often (or ever) that you’ll hear a roots rock song that references scuppernongs, but that’s just one example of the ability and attention to detail that sets Capps apart from his peers.

“Hold Me Darlin’” starts off with a psychedelic introduction that is reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s “Cosmic Charlie,” and it slowly veers into the territory of Piedmont blues as Corky Hughes brings it all together on lap steel.

Both “Bag Of Weed” and “Thankful” are country rockers done right, without the slick overproduction of much of what passes for country music today. I imagine that each will be a crowd-pleaser in a live setting.

The highlight of the album may be “New Again,” a poignant song that addresses the fragility of life. Capps’ relaxed harmonica playing gently caresses the lyric like a lover’s soft kiss on the cheek; and for those of us lucky enough to have children and living parents, the line “I find myself caught between generations either side of me” should really strike a chord. It’s a beautiful song, and it’s nice to hear a reference to Coco Robicheaux, who was certainly a kindred spirit of Capps.

Where “Hold Me Darlin’” starts with a nod to psychedelia, “Taos” is a psychedelic tour de force. It’s the story of a man who falls asleep behind the wheel, killing his lover and unborn child, and the resulting emotional fallout is described in Capps’ compelling story line.

Finally, while life, love and death are aptly covered throughout Scarlett Roses, the album’s final track, “Moving On,” ties is all togethe