Dana Cooper “Ghost of Tucumcari”

Independent, 2024

Celebrating a half-century of songwriting.

Mention Tucumcari in a musical context and the next two words very often will be “Lowell” and “George” such is the resonance of his ‘Willin’. If Dana Cooper does not present this New Mexico landmark city with quite the depth of George’s truck driver soliloquy, he is more than capable of writing some very fine songs. ‘Ghost of Tucumcari’ is essentially a celebration as Cooper marks over fifty years of recording and performing with some friends, themselves first-rate artists, and his long-term producer, Dave Coleman.

Dana Cooper’s career has been prolific, this is his 32nd album. At the country and folk end of americana, an album’s worth of songs in his company aided and abetted by Lyle Lovett, Libby Koch, Shake Russell, Mando Saenz, Gillian Tuite, Hayes Carll, Susan Gibson, David Starr and Darden Smith is time well spent.

With Libby Koch, Cooper gently eases into the record with ‘Start The World Again’, his take on emerging from the pandemic. “Open your heart and let me in” may not be the most profound line written about that time but there is no questioning Cooper’s sincerity, almost an exhalation of relief. Much of Cooper’s inspiration comes from the commonplace. He has a knack of turning a fleeting observation into an absorbing song. Pulling up at a motel late one night he spotted ‘The Ghost of Tucumcari’ , an old, tom cat trying to climb into a bin for some scraps. Too lame to manage he hobbled away with nothing. Cooper could not shake off this forlorn sight, “He sleeps where no one sees him/ Beneath the old abandoned building/ No cruel hand can reach him/ The ghost of Tucumcari”. A plucking banjo and eerie keys add atmosphere to his bleak scene as he and Lyle Lovett whisper deeper questions.

Shake Russell and Koch join Cooper on ‘Children of a Common Mother’ is a brisk affirmation, with a touch of Jackson Browne, that we all came from the same place. Looking inward, Mando Saenz helps out on ‘What is Love Waiting For’ and slowing the pace getting deeper still, Gillian Tuite adds her glistening vocals to ‘Song For Myself’.

The highlight is ‘Falling Star’ as Hayes Carll, Susan Gibson, Shake Russell and David Starr open up space around Cooper’s more assertive voice. The slightly psychedelic vibe would find this perfectly at home on any 1970s country rock album. An enthusiastic harmonica blasts off ‘Going Down Judah’, its energetic tempo proof that Cooper can rock. If slightly tongue in cheek, ‘Raised in a Country Cradle’ is an amusing and vivid account of Cooper’s musical upbringing, “When I was young the family like to gather round/ That kitchen radio we’d wind the long day down/ Mama loved to hear “Your Cheatin’ Heart”/ I couldn’t wait to hear ‘em “Rock Around the Clock”.

As well as country Cooper has folk roots though why he did a cover rather than write something himself seems odd. Nevertheless he and his guests do justice to ‘This Land is Your Land’. ’Beauty and Ruin’ with David Starr, aches with the pain of love lost and his duet ‘Needless to Say’ with Lovett is a lovely reflection to close a record that pays tribute to a long career which has plenty of steam in it yet.


About Lyndon Bolton 143 Articles
Writing about americana, country, blues, folk and all stops in between
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