Nashville singer/songwriter Eric Brace’s tenor voice is like a favorite blanket or crackling fire on a cold February evening; warm and rich, it resonates simple comfort. Brace fine tuned that voice fronting the roots rock band Last Train Home for the last decade. Originally based in Washington, D.C., where he also wrote for The Washington Post, Brace has been living in Nashville for the last five years. It was that move to The Music City that brought Brace together with Peter Cooper, a writer for Nashville’s The Tennessean and a fellow appreciator of the finest Americana songwriters. Living room pickin’ sessions led to a deep friendship and their recent release, You Don’t Have to Like Them Both, a record that showcases both their collective songwriting brilliance and their take on the work of their Americana peers.
The album’s opener, Brace’s "I Know a Bird," is the perfect welcome to this folk-country collection; Brace’s voice weaves hypnotically with moaning pedal steel and the banjo work by multi-instrumental genius Tim O’Brien. Cooper proves he can keep pace with songwriting companion Brace with his "The Man Who Loves to Hate," an homage to those whose mouths too often run faster than their brains.
Brace and Cooper also take on collaborating roles with some of Nashville’s finest songwriters. "Lucky Bones," which the duo penned with Jim Lauderdale, bounces along at a pleasant two-step rhythm and features that familiar Lauderdale twang, while "Denali, Not McKinley," written by Cooper and folk hero jester Todd Snider takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the Eurocentrism so blatant in the naming of natural wonders.
While Brace and Cooper also cover tunes by such songwriting stalwarts as David Olney ("Omar’s Blues #2"), Kris Kristofferson ("Just the Other Side of Nowhere"), Paul Kennerly ("The First in Line"), and Karl Straub, long time friend of Last Train Home ("Drinking From the Swimming Pool"), their best work comes on Kevin Gordon’s "Down to the Well." Over a wondrous blend of electric and acoustic guitars, and highlighted by more beautiful pedal steel, Cooper and Brace trade lead vocal duties and their harmonies in the chorus are a sonic treat.
You Don’t Have to Like Them Both serves notice that, sometimes, pure happenstance can lead to something beautiful. We should cross our fingers and hope that it would happen more often.
You Don’t Have to Like Them Both is out now on Red Beet Records.