Since he has already conditioned us to expect exquisite Lloyd Green steel and a Tom T. Hall cover, the surprise on music-writer-gone-musician (or is it the other way around?) Peter Cooper’s third solo LP is how often his own compositions ascend to similarly lofty heights. Everything we’ve come to love about Cooper the journalist is translated into musical form more subtly and convincingly than ever here, from the deft intermingling of humor and personal autobiography in album opener “Much Better Now” to incisive, empathetic slices of life like “Jenny Died at 25.” As a whole, the album embraces a kind of reluctant optimism befitting a man too observant to ignore difficult realities (drone warfare, a fractious political environment, the state of country radio) but equally opposed to letting those large-scale truths destroy his day-to-day happiness. In its precise management of that balancing act, Opening Day is a very mature – one might even say a very middle-aged – recording. Concerned chiefly with finding ways to get along and discover some hope, humor, and happiness along the way, given all we’ve come to know about why that shouldn’t be possible. In short, it’s an album rippling with all the heart and humanity of a great Peter Cooper editorial.
Which isn’t to say that Cooper’s skill is all, or even mostly, as a wordsmith. In fact, one of his finest moments here is as an interpreter of the Bill Morrissey composition “Birches,” a carefully-drawn Song of the Year contender that seems plucked from the best of Hemingway’s short stories. Even when he doesn’t write ’em, Cooper picks and sings ’em like they were his own.
Recommended if you like: Tom T. Hall, Todd Snider, Kris Kristofferson
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS