Album review is
GREG COPELAND EMERGES FROM 12 YEAR HIATUS WITH DISTINCTIVE “THE TANGO BAR” (ALBUM REVIEW)
August 20, 2020 by GLIDE MAGAZINE, by Jim Hynes
Granted, most of you probably don’t know of Greg Copeland. If you do, you know that he’s a childhood friend and collaborator of Jackson Browne, or maybe that he wrote the hit song, co-written with Steve Noonan for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Buy For Me the Rain.’ The Tango Bar, rather unbelievably, is just Copeland’s third album, having released his debut in 1982 and Diana and James in 2008. We’ll get to the explanation of the dearth of 74-year-old Copeland’s material later but all one must-see are the names gracing the credits to understand how much respect Copeland has achieved as a songwriter despite his minimal output.
While Copeland sings five of these nine songs in his weary, battered voice, he steps aside for the four others with terrific female vocalists—Caitlin Canty (three) and Inara George (daughter of the late Little Feat leader Lowell George) (one). The contemplative fare, all penned by Copeland, though he had co-writers for two of them, flow softly, some melodically, others in a more haunted vein. Gracing the session are such luminaries as guitarists Greg Leisz and Val McCallum, drummers Jay Bellerose and Don Heffington, keyboardist David Garza, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Chester.
Copeland places the lead vocals appropriately as he sings on the brooding “Lou Reed” and the accordion-flavored “Let Him Dream” with Madison Cunningham adding the eerie backing vocals, while the brighter tracks feature Canty on “Better Now” and “Beaumont Taco Bell” where her dreamy, lovely voice just has Leisz’s stunning pedal steel as accompaniment. George, in a similar way, begins the album with the beautiful “I’ll Be Your Sunny Day” accompanied only by Chester who plays piano and bass.
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Copeland’s debut, Revenge Will Come, was widely hailed in 1982 and placed alongside albums such as Springsteen’s Nebraska, Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights as elite albums of that year. Yet, Copeland surprisingly decided to quit the music business, became a paralegal and eventually a full-fledged lawyer and went onto raise a family. In other words, he wanted to make some real money rather than try to survive hand-to-mouth as many singer-songwriters unfortunately do.
A quarter of a century later the songs started to come back as if a switch just got turned on. Thus, Diana and James appeared in 2008. That album had a spare, resonant sound as does this one, described by some as “bleak and wondrous,” adjectives that also apply here. Although that album generated new acclaim by old and new fans alike, Copeland wasn’t in a rush to make another record. He claims that he needs to accumulate a group of songs that fit together somehow. That lets him know he’s ready for an album, however long it takes. At this stage in life, the 74-year old Copeland may deliver music more frequently. He is embracing writing again, believing one gets more creative with age and already has another album worth of songs ready to record once he can raise the money.
Copeland delivers a vibe, not unlike Leonard Cohen on the ones he sings, especially “Scan the Beast” and the closing title track. His voice oozes the experience of life’s hard-earned lessons and the spacious, atmospheric musical backdrops add gravitas to the whole sound. The twin guitars of Leisz on lap steel and McCallum on electric are especially striking on “Scan the Beast” while Chester’s unique horn arrangement colors the title track. “Lou Reed” is appropriately dark and menacing and even has some echoes of The Velvet Underground. The overall sound stands far apart from the usual singer-songwriter fare, making these half-sung, half-spoken songs memorable.
Greg Copeland is many things – distinctive, intriguing, iconoclastic and worthy of a listen. Thankfully, it appears we won’t have to wait another twelve years to hear his next one but, in the meantime, there’s much to savor here.
From The Rocking Magpie:
The Tango Bar
Stripped Down,Warm, a Tad Unsettling and with Strangely Deep, Strong and Meaningful Lyrics.
From Southern California, singer-songwriter Copeland has delivered an intriguing new album to follow 2008’s “Diane and James” which in turn came after a huge gap between that and his 1982 debut on Geffen Records (entitled “Revenge Will Come Back to You” produced by his friend Jackson Browne).
The Tango Bar is produced by the talented Tyler Chester and the quality of the musicians playing on the nine tracks is indeed impressive. Greg Leisz, Jay Bellerose and Don Heffington to name just three certainly help endorse the players herein and assist with the credibility. But wait a minute, you also get 2 guest female vocalists ensuring variety and colour to the singing. The well respected and very busy Caitlin Canty is heard on 3 tracks with Inara George too, on the opening track.
Whoa there! What? Who?
Yes, Inara George, the daughter of the Little Feat legend Lowell George. Rock music royalty, if ever such a thing existed.
So, to the music; and it is Inara George who sings the opening track, “I’ll be Your Sunny Day” with a very simple piano & bass backing and could quite easily come straight from the pen of his long-time friend Mr. Browne.
“Let Him Dream” follows with Copeland as the vocalist singing dreamy lyrics that paint a clear picture that fit very nicely with the laid back melody.
“Coldwater Canyon” is one of several songs that features some basic whistling to lead you into an almost cool, jazzy groove with Greg Leisz’s electric guitar adding significant icing to the cake.
“Lou Reed” is perhaps the nosiest intro, again with Leisz on electric guitar and Copeland proving a sharp and perceptive story teller. Caitlin Canty then takes over the microphone for the next three tracks with a slow and moody “Mistaken for Dancing”, the mid tempo “Better Now” and just her on acoustic guitar with Leisz on his haunting pedal steel amplifying the serene picture that Copeland’s lyrics portray.
The albums title track The Tango Bar; is indeed my favourite and saved for the final song. It has a delightfully slow piano intro with a beautiful, understated trumpet & french horn from Stewart Cole, almost sounding, to me, like a North East England Colliery Band from times gone by.
Copeland’s best line on the entire album protrudes from this song and really strikes a chord with “something in my heart has changed”.
You see folks, Rock music doesn’t have to be loud and trashy or fast and furious. Fact is, sometimes melancholy and moody just fits the bill.
So, if you like your music with meaning, if you like it stripped down, if you like music that is still somewhat warm but also a tad unsettling with strangely deep, strong meaningful lyrics then THE TANGO BAR is just for you.
Fact is, the more I’ve played it, the more I like it.
## Thanks to Andy Wendland, ‘67 for calling this release to my attention.