Perfectionists like Peter Gabriel and Steely Dan may spend years on an album, but Bay Area musician Scott Cooper has got them beat: The initial tracks on his debut CD were laid down a full two decades ago. Cooper played most of the instruments himself, overdubbing bass, drums, keys and guitars, and plugged in various friends along the way — Galactic’s Ben Ellman and Little Feat’s Bill Payne among them. Ironically enough, it sounds like something a well-oiled roots/jam band could have done in one good night.
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Credit that to the album’s relaxed, organic vibe. Cooper is a card-carrying Deadhead who sometimes plays in a tribute band, and the Dead are one of many influences who sneak onto his album. And his jam band roots run deep: “Girl in the Garden” sounds like something Dickey Betts might have written during the Allman Brothers’ more countryish phase (the twin-guitar line even hints at “Ramblin’ Man”), while Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr” is arranged like the Jerry Garcia Band rather than the Dead (the heavier organ makes the difference). The closing track “Bye Bye” was probably one of the first things recorded (judging by its more primitive sound quality), and has more of a mid-‘60s, power-pop feel.
The famous guests appear in a pair of New Orleans-flavored songs: “Dance the Night” goes a little overboard with the local references (If you meet a sexy lady drinking Abitas at Tipitina’s, you probably don’t care if she can cook gumbo), but the groove is right, and Ellman’s baritone sax adds a sleazy, Morphine-esque feel. Also tasty is “Golden Coconut,” which is essentially Little Feat doing a Mardi Gras song: Payne lends a characteristically freewheeling piano solo, lead/slide guitarists Matt Hartle and Keith Hamm evoke the George/Barrere tandem, and Cooper does a mean Richie Hayward on drums.
Cooper isn’t reinventing any wheels here, and he doesn’t even feature himself on many of the tracks, preferring to be the rhythm section while guest singers and guitarists take the spotlight. It winds up a showcase for his songwriting (he penned everything but the Zevon tune), and proves he can write material worthy of the bands he loves.