Jack Cooper

Sandgrown

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Jack Cooper's first true solo album, Sandgrown, was recorded alone on an old four-track recorder as the singer/songwriter/guitarist meditated on his youth growing up in the Blackpool area. The intimate sound and relaxed approach to both his singing and playing are very removed from his work with Mazes, but very similar to his time as half of Ultimate Painting. In fact, most of the album sounds like the latter band minus James Hoare's contributions, which means fewer guitar duels (though not by much) and a more unified lyrical outlook. It still has the same high number of songs with sneaky-good melodies and guitar lines that get lodged deeply within the brain. Pick any track, save the two guitar jazz instrumentals, and it would have been a strong Ultimate Painting song. Some, like the slow-rolling "Stranded Fleetwood Blues" or the even slower-rolling "On a Pier in the Wind," would have been standouts. Cooper also does a little bit of stretching here and there, indulging in some Nilsson-style whimsy on the super-catchy "Estuary" or letting loose with some quicksilver-fast guitar noodling on "Memphis, Lancashire." Then there are the two instrumentals, which show that Cooper could have a future in supper-club entertaining if he wanted to. They are short diversions that don't distract from the fine songs, Cooper's intimate vocals, or the quiet intensity that bubbles through the mellow surfaces occasionally. Sandgrown is the kind of record that feels like a laid-back, almost too quiet experience at first, but with each successive spin the emotions cut deeper and Cooper's feelings are transferred more indelibly to the listener. Cooper's work in bands has always been top-notch; his solo work is more of the same and this feels like the first step toward revealing the true artist within.

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