For those who've been living under a rock, don't go to movies, or don't read books, it suffices to say that Grayson Capps is a songwriter recently departed form New Orleans, just as many of musicians were after Katrina. He was in a film and wrote four songs for the film A Love Song for Bobby Long. The film was made from a screenplay taken from Capps' father's then-unpublished novel about desperate but visionary people who live hard lives, are seized by hard times, and seek redemption. Capps is 39-years-old in 2006, but has the wizened, road-weary face of a wandering troubadour from the Dustbowl or of those who left the Deep South in the 1940s seeking work in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and other Northern climes. Wail & Ride is his second solo album and it's full of blood and spit and raw, raw, heavy soul. As a songwriter, Capps is steeped in the Southern music tradition. His press kit has all kinds of stuff in about J.J. Cale, Ry Cooder, and Townes Van Zandt. Nah -- don't you believe it. You can hear Tony Joe White in there for sure, you can hear, perhaps, a spirit similar to that of the North Mississippi Allstars, or some of the crazies who've recorded on Fat Possum like R.L. Burnside and David Malone, or the desperation of recently departed ghosts of Chris Whitley and the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce. You can also hear the raucous blues that comes out of the bars at night and in the little courts and galleries of what used to be New Orleans. Capps has rhythm and time; he's always in the pocket. He can moan and call down thunder or fire, and he can whisper like a man reaching out for the first and last time to someone or something he's only just now understood and hoping it's not too late. He calls himself an actor, but he's really a channeler. He digs into the spirit of things in order to report on the parts of them that people can't readily see, whether that's in the complications of a human heart, the interactions between lovers who can't seem to get it right, or reportage from the gutter on the side of the street where some poor soul is lying face down and can't get up. There are lots of images in these rough and tumble songs. Forget that Americana crap. Capps is not an observer, he's a participant. He's too gritty to really be American Gothic, but he has no idea what year it is, either.
Grayson Capps plays a very strange and particular kind of weird country and blues music. It encompasses many American styles, whether he can name them or not. There are nasty acoustic guitars that delve into country when it was country & western, touch on the old modal blues, and then spit out some honky tonk, funky soul, and rock & roll -- all underneath a singer who keeps going on and on about all these people who are busted up, brokenhearted, lost, abandoned, who refuse to accept the hand that's been dealt them, always holding out for one tiny glimmer -- like he's using his one last dime in the hope that this time, the girl down at the end of the bar will notice him. You already know how the story ends, but that hardly matters. "Daddy's Eyes" has the kind of sorrow that only someone who has lost something can hold close, and his observations about the Mason-Dixon line are curious. Trina Shoemaker's backing vocals underscore the tenderness in the tune "Give It to Me," it's a pumped up, funky and twisted love song to a whore, complete with tinkling upright piano and skittering snares and cymbals -- at least until the electric guitars make it a rocker. "New Orleans Waltz" is a bit clumsy lyrically, too full of images and longing and heartbreak about wanting something that is the living proof that nothing lasts forever. But then, having made his home on S. Front Street (literally) for 20 years and losing it to Katrina, he's got a right to be busted up about it, doesn't he? Take the title track and the story it tells of desperation played out between two people to the accompaniment of a Wurlitzer and a pair of guitars on the chooglin blues tip (Guthrie Trapp is a badass picker), and the slippery drums and percussion that carry that beat all the way home. "Poison" is a song that Commander Cody would kill to have written and Dr. John should cover if he ever gets hungry for his music again. "Broomy" is an off-kilter country blues with some other stuff tossed in. It's got a lyric that turns the heart into an open sore that aches dully and pumps new blood into a cynic's sawdust-filled veins. But the last two tracks, "Cry Me One Tear," and "Waterhole Branch," are worth the price of thew whole album -- the latter could have been used in the film Jesus' Son. Wail & Ride is a winner. Old Joel Dorn and his Hyena label have some new tricks up their sleeve, but this guy is the jewel hidden in the coal.