Previously part of Mazes and the more critically-lauded Ultimate Painting, Jack Cooper is striking out on his own for a new record. Called Sandgrown, the album, out on Friday via Trouble In Mind Records, is a lyrical and melodic triumph, expanding on the sort of stuff he's done before in an assured fashion.
If the fellows in Ultimate Painting took their main cues from The Velvet Underground (and The Feelies, a fact I can attest to having recently seen UP in D.C. a few months ago), Jack Cooper on his own seems to be looking elsewhere for the touchstones of what will make up his craft. If earlier single "North Of Anywhere" brought a slight twang to things, don't fear that Cooper has gone all Gram Parsons on us (not that that would be a bad thing). "Stranded Fleetwood Blues" uses a similarly slight country-and-western hook to anchor things even as Cooper's vocals remain closer to those of British artists like Roddy Frame and Phil Wilson, while "Glynn Square" also trods roughly the same sort of path. The slightly churning "A Net" recalls Yanks Yo La Tengo, while the superb "On A Pier In The Wind" sees Cooper wrap his distinctive vocals around a haunting, languid melodic line that bears favorable comparisons to early solo George Harrison cuts. On the lovely "Estuary" Cooper seems to be channeling Nilsson in a respectable fashion, while the aching "Memphis, Lancashire" nods in the direction of early Seventies folk-y and blues-y pioneers even as Cooper vocalizes in the style of Lennon on those few few solo records post-break-up of The Beatles. The effect on this one is, like that on so many of the tunes on this brief record, haunting.
If Ultimate Painting seem intent on whittling down their music to a handful of the purest of influences, Jack Cooper as a solo artist finds himself expanding slightly in a few new directions. This is not a radical surprise of a record, and fans of Ultimate Painting will probably like Sandgrown as much as I did, but, still, Cooper deserves some credit here for taking a few modest risks while striking out on his own. Sandgrown, out on Friday via Trouble in Mind Records, is a quietly-beautiful album, and one that should please fans of Cooper's other acts (Mazes, Ultimate Painting), as well as gain the guy a few new followers.
[Photo: Tsouni Cooper]