South Front Street, the latest album from Grayson Capps on the Royal Potato Family label, is a retrospective of his career from his earliest days in New Orleans to his 2017 release, Scarlett Roses. However, this is not your typical greatest hits package.
Capps’ producer, and wife, Trina Shoemaker was responsible for compiling the tracks on the disc. Instead of merely gathering together his most popular songs, Shoemaker has picked pieces she feels best represents the journey Capps has taken both musically and personally. The songs are not just signposts of how his music has progressed, but also traces his, and their, lives as they’ve moved around the country.
I first heard Capps back in 2008 when I was sent Songbones in amongst a couple of other albums from the Hyena label. It was a revelation, and I’m glad to see two songs from that disc, “Washboard Lisa” and “Junior and the Old African Queen” included in this collection. These two songs show off Capps’ ability as a storyteller at its finest. The details of each person’s life are so clearly drawn we have no trouble visualizing either the street person, Lisa, or the swamp boatsman Junior, as Capps sings their lives for us.
You see, as this album shows time and time again Capps isn’t just your average singer songwriter. He goes deep into the heart of his subject and comes out the other side with a beautiful tale that will take you so far into a story that sometimes you have a hard time separating his truths from any other reality.
In some ways he’s a singer; in other ways he’s a direct inheritor of the fine old school of Southern American Gothic literature. The people who occupy his songs aren’t what anybody would call genteel or polite company, and they’re far more interesting for it.
At the same time Capps doesn’t romanticize any of the people he depicts. You get them warts and all. They might sound cool as get out, like Bobby Long in “A Love Song For Bobby Long”, but, “Don’t get me wrong Bobby Long was no good/He’d drag you down if he thought he could”. A character who could have been written by Kerouac, Long is a ne’re-do-well’s ne’re-do-well, living life to the fullest even if it kills him doing it.
Musically Capps is a mixture of folk, country, New Orleans blues and the occasionally burst of rock and roll. Musically and lyrically he doesn’t let himself be pigeon holed. Just because one song is about a bar or some good old boys, doesn’t mean another won’t be on the wonder of having children and finding an arrowhead (“Arrowhead”).
South Front Street from Grayson Capps shows off his wonderful music to its best advantage. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to one of America’s best kept musical secrets.