Next time you’re at the record store, flip through a stack of country LPs. Chances are you’ll see one name on at least half of them: Lloyd Green. The living legend and his pedal steel have appeared on hundreds of hits and songs we now call classics in his approximately fifty-year career. “Girl on the Billboard?” He was on that. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E?” That one too. “Golden Ring,” “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” and, more recently, Alan Jackson’s “Remember When?” Check, check, and check.
Green’s biggest fan might be journalist/singer/songwriter Peter Cooper, who used Green on his debut album Mission Door. Though Cooper’s latest is ostensibly a solo record, Green makes for a fine duet partner. He may not have sung a single note, but it’s his pedal steel that serves as the album’s life force; with licks that range from mournful to mocking, it’s easy to see just why Green’s the best in the business.
According to Cooper’s website, he handed these songs over to Green as “nearly blank canvases,” with only his vocals and acoustic guitar. Green then composed and recorded the steel arrangements for each song before the rest of the song was filled out with other musicians and vocalists including Kim Carnes, Rodney Crowell, and frequent Cooper collaborator Eric Brace.
Cooper is a songwriter’s songwriter, with an eye for detail, ability to turn a phrase, and slightly askew sense of humor possessed by the Kris Kristoffersons and Tom T. Halls of the world. Thus, it makes sense that those would be two of the artists he covers here with great skill. On Kristofferson’s “Here Comes That Rainbow Again” he sings about kindness found in unexpected places, like scenes borrowed from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. On Hall’s “Mama, Bake a Pie,” about a disabled, alcoholic veteran, Cooper’s quiet delivery underscores the morbid humor of lines like “Since I won’t be walking I suppose I’ll save some money buying shoes.”
The originals are cockeyed gems, ranging from charmingly self-deprecating autobiography on album opener “Dumb Luck” to portraits of some left-of-center characters like Nashville’s man about town Dub Cornett (“What Dub Does,” a song that leaves the listener with more questions than answer) and Elmer Hahn, an oldtimer at a slowly dying Milwaukee polka bar (“Elmer the Dancer”). Cooper’s voice, slightly raspy with a hint of dry wit, fits these tunes like a well-worn ballcap.
As with Mission Door, one of the album’s strongest tracks is a song co-written with Todd Snider. “The Last Laugh,” which also appeared on Snider’s 2009 release The Excitement Plan, is told from the perspective of a loveable sad sack who proclaims “I want a six-foot tombstone, two-foot thick/With the words engraved ‘I tried to tell you all I was sick/So you will know that I was right when you go walkin’ on past/You tried to tell me I was well/Look who’s laughing last.”
Closing out the record is “Train to Birmingham,” penned by John Hiatt, on which Cooper sings “I never get to Birmingham…Getting there ain’t the plan/I just like the feel of going home.” Listening to The Lloyd Green Album gives one the same feeling.