Music Review: Allan Cooper - Rose Dale

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Funny how things work out.  Back in the early '90's, the Albert County band Isaac, Blewett & Cooper was formed, among other interests, for the trio to explore their interest in Robert Johnson and other old acoustic blues players.  While they existed, the group was pretty much known as a blues group.  As the decade came to a close, they splintered, as Allan Cooper wanted to more more towards his own songwriting.  It turned out neither Cooper or Isaac & Blewett stayed in the general blues field.  Cooper became more of a singer-songwriter, and I & B invented their own pastoral folk, embellished with cello and loops and original hippie wisdom.

Allan Cooper's output is less than his old pals, as he's not as much of a touring beast as the others, and he tends to hone and consider a project in longer terms.  No surprise, as that is what he's used to as a professional poet and publisher as well, and it must be hard to switch back and forth between the two radically different writing styles.  At least they are very different for him, as his songs use much more common language and songwriter structure than his poetry.  You're not going to need a dictionary to listen to his CD's, nor are you going to see the phrase "what'cha gonna do" in one of his poems.

Since there is quite a bit of space between Cooper's music projects, it's meant some major changes in his writing and sound.  Previously known as a guitar player, on Rosedale you'll find just as many piano-based numbers, Cooper himself settled behind the keys.  And while he's not throwing poesy at you, he's certainly putting emphasis on the lyrics, so the slower tempo and quietness of some of these songs certainly gives a contemplative feel to many of the songs, letting you focus on the words.

Not to say he can't pep it up a bit, too.  There's hard work that's gone into the production here, with some of the area's top musicians drafted in, including Chris Colepaugh on guitar and a lot of drums (!), fiddlin' Sam Robichaud laying in more conventional strings than her usual feisty Celtic stuff, and Les Paiens' Jean Surette also taking the percussion chair for a few.  Producers Robin Anne Ettles and John Maher both do quadruple-duty, playing everything there is to play, and Ettles taking co-vocals on one number.

And there's the other big change in the years that have passed between Cooper projects.  His daughter Kate has gone from a little kid running around Alma to an adult, and has joined the family business.  He's handed the mic over for great parts of the disc, with Kate full vocalist or co-vocalist on much of the work.  This gives the album a lot more variety, and it's also lead to a new band being formed.  In the years he spent on the project, they ended up created a band known as Rosedale, which features the two Coopers, plus producer Ettles.  They've already launched the disc July 1, and watch for more shows down the road.

Oh, but wait, one more thing about Rose Dale.  It seems Allan Cooper hasn't abandoned that earlier love of Robert Johnson after all.  You might remember a Johnson number, played by many including Led Zeppelin, called Traveling Riverside Blues.  In it, Johnson makes reference to "goin' down to Rosedale".  Eric Clapton grabbed that same verse and stuck it in his version of Crossroads as well.  Rosedale, Mississippi is one of the places considered to be the home of the legendary crossroads where Johnson sold his soul to the devil, as the legend goes.  On the lone cover on the disc, Cooper has renamed Traveling Riverside Blues as Rose Dale, and the whole gang gets back into the spirit of Robert Johnson that brought Cooper into music in the 90's in the first place.  Funny how things work out.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).

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