Grayson Capps has had quite a life so far. A childhood spent listening to his father and friends getting drunk, telling stories and strumming guitars, a spell at Tulane University as a theatre major, during which time he formed two bands which enjoyed 'moderate national success' (The House Levelers and Stavin' Chain), a period squatting on the outskirts of New Orleans, a lucky break writing songs for the movie 'A Love Song for Bobby Long' (based on his own father's unpublished novel) and a move to a farmhouse in Tennessee in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which was the venue for the sessions that resulted in his latest album, 'Rott 'n' Roll'.
And what a blast the sessions sound - afternoons rehearsing, evenings spent sitting round the bonfire in Capps' backyard, cutting a track 'if the spirit moved them' (notice the absence of any activities in the mornings). Fun to record, then, and fun to listen to. This is Southern roots music at its very best, respectful to the past, yet uninhibited by history, recognisably of its place and yet not formulaic, just a bunch of good musicians kicking about a bunch of good songs.
"Grand Maw Maw" and "Big Ole Woman" are joyously dumb and dirty rock and roll, "Psychic Channel Blues" beautifully smoky, "Arrowhead" glorious country in the outlaw style, "Ike" in the grand old tradition of country story songs, "Bacon" a good old-fashioned rockin' instrumental. We even have, with "Fear Fruit Bearing Tree", a spoken word track (that's right, whisper it, a poem) which, although occasionally marred by some obsessive rhyming ('we create the confusion/so take a dose of seclusion/to dilute the delusion'), also contains some effective poetic conceits (greed is the seed of a fear fruit bearing tree / ... / now did Eve give it to Adam / or did Adam give it to Eve / ... / well, they bit then, and we all bite now / because we're constantly taught how / and we are now the seeds of a fear fruit bearing tree'), and is saved from mediocrity by the sheer passion of Capps' performance.
All the performances on this CD are excellent. It is invidious to pick any one band member out for special praise - Tommy MacLuckie's guitar is sweet and dirty, gentle and fierce, Josh Kerrin's bass solid and understated, which is to say everything he plays is in the service of the song (a dream bass player in other words), John Milham's drums swing or rock as required and Capps' vocals just so warm and easy, cracking in all the right places. These performances are beautifully captured in the recording (for which Trina Shoemaker is credited), which focuses on the individual instruments enough to let the cymbals hiss like metal rain and the guitars sing and cry, but also weaves the sound of the whole band together so that you can hear where the guys were standing in the room when they recorded. There are overdubs on the album, but it is no surprise to hear that the bones of most of the tracks are first takes recorded live - after a suitably enjoyable evening round the campfire no doubt.
If you are a fan of Americana, or looking for a way in to contemporary country music that avoids the flag waving corporate slickness of much of the output of Nashville these days, my advice is to pack a bag and head on down to Capps' farmhouse; if you can't afford the airfare, then buy this CD and transport yourself there for a fraction of the cost.
Grayson Capps - Rott 'N' Roll on amazon.com
Rott 'n' Roll amazon.co.uk
Photo Credits: top - Collin Peterson; bottom - Karen Will Rogers
By: Jim Driscoll