Bruce Piephoff

Good People

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"One caress is worth a million careers," Bruce Piephoff sings on "Take It Slow," the charming, indeed somewhat profound conclusion to the 2004 CD release entitled Good People. It is a collection of 15 songs and one poem with instrumental accompaniment that quite often seems to champion this artist's belief in the integrity of his surroundings, especially the "good people" who inhabit it. With a discipline that never violates his personal philosophy, Piephoff totally avoids any kind of flashy, attention-getting activity. His songs are as warm as the hearts of the people he pays tribute to, although his preoccupation with subjects such as Southern barbecue and fast food indicates that perhaps some of this warmth is purely indigestion. A sense of this and other subjects can be gleaned simply by scanning the song titles. That process, however, does not provide even a clue regarding each song's actual level of enjoyment and inspiration. "Huddle House Hustle" is feather light; keep this up and they might start calling him "Bruce Toss-Off." Who would guess, on the other hand, that a song called "Carolina Barbecue," less than two minutes in length, would be so mysterious? "Nick and Lucy" hides what might have been its real title inside the romantic intoxication of its chorus, while "He Got Drunk at the David Allan Coe Show" is a title that, like David Allan Coe himself, promises more than it ever delivers.

Instrumentally, Piephoff gathers together a crew of his regulars to put this material forward. If any one of these individuals were to be credited with helping to create a kind of progression within Piephoff's stylistic development, it would have to be percussionist Scotty Irving. A born-again Christian who also plays avant-garde music, Irving is tremendously inventive with both familiar drum sounds such as the snare drum as well as the type of playing that inspires questions such as "What the hell was that?" Almost from the get-go the listener is confronted with one of Piephoff's most cozy stylistic devices, the wheezing rack harmonica, while Irving supplies rhythm seemingly by extracting teeth from the jaws of an ass, hopefully not the one belonging to the Biblical Joseph and Mary. Other instrumental highlights come courtesy Scott Manring on a variety of pickable stringed instruments and bluegrass veteran Kirk Sutphin on fiddle. "Through Thin Hotel Walls" will most likely be among any listener's favorite tracks on this CD. It is simply a marvelous song, full of detail and delivered with a casual grace that is almost angelic. The only problem, then, is that it is the second track on the CD, and it becomes a bit of an exercise in frustration waiting for something to top it. "February Song" comes close, capturing the writer in a certain state of being, at a particular time and place. One sentiment expressed in the course of its lyrics is the desire for peace; as a reaction to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 it seems more meaningful than "20 Miles to Baghdad," the latter track programmed during the final quarter of the CD's playing length. One feels sorry for Piephoff that a country singer named Lizzie West turned around and came up with "19 Miles to Baghdad." But really, one feels much more sorry for the human race -- the American Army actually got into Baghdad quicker than American folksingers could write songs about it.