Scarlett Roses, on the Royal Potato Family label, is the first solo album from Grayson Capps in six years. Right from the opening chords of the album’s lead track, “Scarlett Roses”, listeners are quickly reminded what it is about Capps that makes him and his music so special. From the resonance of his guitar to the rough-hewn tenor of his voice, each of his songs not only sound great, they feel amazing inside your soul.
Capps has always been an incredible mixture of raconteur, preacher, and mad poet that in another age would have seen either revered as a bard or sage, or maybe burnt at a stake. His songs have this strange way of working their way under your skin without you even noticing. Listening to his tunes, you’ll all of a sudden find yourself singing along to lyrics you’ve never heard before – as if they were from a song you’d been listening to all your life.
Scarlett Roses is no exception, save now he travels a little deeper into each story. Instead of merely recounting what happens, he now takes us below the surface of the journey into something closer to the psyche of his subject. What’s even more impressive is how he accomplishes this without any apparent effort on his part.
There’re no fancy words or finely wrought phrases delivering deep insights. Rather, it’s a matter of how over the course of the song he builds an image in your head. It’s this picture which allows you to hear (or see) what the song was about and the various truths underneath the words.
Now, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean this isn’t an album of great music. A number of years ago I said if anyone wanted to hear what Southern rock and roll sounds like, they should listen to Capps. After hearing this album, I’ve changed my mind.
He is the best of anyone around today playing music representing the heart of American popular music. Call it Americana, or whatever you want, but it’s that weird place where traditional Anglo folk music meets African American blues and gospel and forms the basis for everything that’s come out of the radio over the last 60 years.
With everything from the Texas blues of the eighth track “Taos”, to the country gospel sound of the sixth song “New Again” (with its secular/religious lyrics), the disc takes you on a wonderful tour of music which is the love child of Hank Williams and Charlie Patton. Accompanying Capps for the ride are Corky Hughes on guitar, lap steel, bass, and piano; Rufus Ducote on bass, and Hammond bass pedals; Russ Broussard on drums and washboard; and Trina Shoemaker (also producer along with Capps and Hughes) and Dylan LeBlanc singing harmonies.
In some ways, in spite of all its simplicity and apparent straightforwardness, this release is one of Capps’ most sophisticated albums. He’s not only, along with his accomplices, managed to create music which seamlessly blends a myriad of styles, his lyrics do an amazing job of balancing the literal and the emotional. Listeners don’t just hear the story, they also manage to experience it on a visceral level.
However, what really matters is this is an album you’re going to want to listen to over and over again. The combination of great music and lyrics, amazing playing by all involved, and Capps’ compelling voice and delivery easily makes Scarlett Roses one of the best albums I’ve heard to come out of North America this year.