The new trio Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz is not really new at all.
Eric and Peter have recorded and toured together for almost a decade now, and their last two albums were recorded in Thomm’s studio, with Thomm in the role as recording engineer, producer, guitarist, and harmony singer. Whenever they could, they’ve taken Thomm on the road, a sideman extraordinaire whose sublime flatpicking guitar style elevates anything Thomm weaves it into. But Eric and Peter knew that Thomm was also a world class songwriter, and they kept twisting his arm to take front-and-center during their shows and sing a few of his own compositions. It was only a matter of time before the duo-into-trio transformation became official. It was a matter of making a record. Which they’ve now done. As a trio.
Called Profiles in Courage, Frailty, and Discomfort (no, really) the album is out on Eric’s East Nashville label Red Beet Records, and it’s 14 songs by all three members, tackling such weighty topics as moonwalks, steamboat captaining, dollar-slots, Johnny Cash’s gravesite, Jerry Lee Lewis’s birthplace, Willie Nelson’s notions of eternity, the downside of Parkersburg, West Virginia, and a Tennessee town flooded for the sake of electricity.
Eric, Peter, and Thomm each has something distinct and slightly skewed to say about the world, and when they bring their singular perspectives to the trio table, it’s a perfect example of a whole being much greater than the sum of its parts. And what parts they are!
Eric began his musical career in Washington D.C. where he was a journalist with The Washington Post. There, he launched his acclaimed roots-rock band Last Train Home in the late ‘90s, touring with the group extensively across the U.S. and Europe, releasing seven albums and one concert DVD. The band moved to Nashville in 2004, where Eric met Peter Cooper, an award-winning journalist who covered music for The Tennessean newspaper. They began a part-time duo, which soon became a nearly full-time thing, and so far they have four records to their name, all released on Red Beet Records.
Eric and Peter were nominated for a Grammy for producing I Love: Tom T. Hall’s Songs of Fox Hollow, their 2011 release on Red Beet Records that featured them, along with Patti Griffin, Bobby Bare, Jim Lauderdale, Duane Eddy, and Tom T. Hall himself, all reprising tunes from his classic kids record of 1974, Songs of Fox Hollow.
Speaking of the great Bobby Bare, a 13-year-old Thomm Jutz was watching TV in his family home in the Black Forest of Germany one night, when Bobby Bare came on and sang his hits “Detroit City” and “Tequila Sheila.” Like a bolt from above, young Thomm knew right then that he was going to play guitar and move to Nashville. Twenty years later, in 2003, he did just that. In Nashville, he immediately became an indispensable sideman to acclaimed artists Nanci Griffith, Mary Gauthier, and Maura O’Connell. After building a recording studio he has become one of the most sought after producers of acoustic music in Music City, with production credits on albums by Nanci Griffith, Jason Ringenberg, Sid Griffin, Mac Wiseman, and many more.
Thomm has produced, engineered, and played on the last two Brace-Cooper albums, The Comeback Album, and C&O Canal, as well as Peter Cooper’s last solo release, Depot Light: Songs of Eric Taylor.
Thomm’s spectacular guitar playing has added a virtuosic dimension to Eric and Peter’s live performances and arrangements, while his harmonies and lead singing add vocal richness to the shows.
He has also joined the short list of writers such as Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov whose works in their second language of English are as evocative as anything a native speaker can conjure. To grasp the truth of that, listen to Thomm’s three albums of original music about different episodes in the Civil War, titled The 1861 Project, volumes I, II, and III. They feature such artists as Bobby Bare (yep, they’ve become friends), Marty Stuart, Jerry Douglas, and Kim Richey, and are astonishingly evocative.
Thomm is also one of the most successful songwriters in the bluegrass world, having charted five #1 bluegrass chart hits over the past year (as recorded by Shawn Camp, Irene Kelly, and Chris Jones & the Night Drivers), and has had ten more compositions in the bluegrass radio top twenty.
His 2015 duo album with Craig Market, Nowhere to Hide, and a 2016 solo album, Volunteer Trail, are both gems of song craft and acoustic guitar work.
Peter’s latest creation, other than Profiles in Courage, Frailty, and Discomfort, is a superb book of true Nashville tales, called Johnny’s Cash & Charlie’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music. Out on Spring House Press, it’s some of the best music writing you’ll ever read, Peter’s conversational style packs a ton of information – from hilarious to tragic to essential – into his never-before-heard tales from Music City. Well worth getting and reading.
Peter, by the way, moved on in 2015 from writing for The Tennessean to working at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where he's writing, producing, creating, curating, and much more.
Together, Eric, Peter, and Thomm weave stories, songs, harmonies, and guitar playing into something very special. The lyrics are as thoughtful as those of their heroes, a list that includes John Prine, John Hartford, Kris Kristofferson, Tom T. Hall, Paul Simon, and Townes Van Zandt. Add harmonies that bring to mind the Seldom Scene, Emmylou Harris, and the Everly Brothers, and sumptuous guitar arrangements, and you have a truly memorable evening of music.
IF I HAD A NICKEL
by Eric Brace
(Dry Diggin Tunes, BMI)
Warren Zevon said to enjoy every sandwich. We’ve tried and failed. Clearly, some of them have been great, and we’ve savored them. Warren was trying to say something about the ephemeral nature of life. But not every sandwich is really enjoyable, unless your standards are low. Peter once ate a sandwich in England that was downright aggressive, and that made a Liverpool gig problematic.