On Friday Jan. 22, Red Beet Records will release C&O Canal, the fourth record by Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, the Grammy-nominated duo from East Nashville.
They may live in East Nashville, but both Eric and Peter spent key years of their lives in Washington D.C., and it was that city’s live music that inspired this collection, a tribute to the songs, people, and places of D.C.’s folk and bluegrass scenes.
C&O Canal was produced by Thomm Jutz, a formidable talent who not only recorded and mixed the album, but sang harmonies and played most of the guitars on it. He's joined by these sublime musicians: Justin Moses (banjo, dobro, mandolin), Andrea Zonn (violin, vocals), Jeff Taylor (accordion), Mark Fain (bass), and Lynn Williams (drums).
With songs by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, John Starling (of the Seldom Scene) and many more Washington musical figures of the past 50 years, C&O Canal is a timely reminder that the Nation’s Capital is much more than politics….
Mary Chapin Carpenter:
It’s a real honor to have a song on this record.
Eric and Peter cut their musical teeth on the folk, acoustic, and bluegrass greats who came through the D.C. area during their “impressionable” years. They have lovingly curated a collection of songs that shows the depth and range of artists who made Washington home -- or a mandatory tour stop -- as well as giving it the informal title of “Bluegrass Capital of the World," especially on Thursday nights when the Seldom Scene had their regular gig at the legendary Birchmere.
Washington D.C. is often thought of as a city of transplants, but when it comes to the music on this record, it’s the hometown we can all claim, with love, passion, and respect.
The road to here began for me in the '70s, when a Wilson High School friend took me to the Birchmere to see the Seldom Scene. Their Thursday night residency became a regular destination, opening a hundred musical doors. They were gods, but they had day jobs. They were just folks, but they flew above the rest of us.
My flowchart flows from those nights to the Cellar Door, Mr. Henry's, Desperado's, the Childe Harold, the Folklife Festival, WAMU, Katy Daley, Dick Spottswood, Gary Henderson, Eddie Stubbs, the Unicorn Times, Cerphe, Mary Cliff, WHFS, Damien, Bob Here, Weasel, House of Musical Traditions, Gallagher's, and many more dots on Washington's musical map. Years later, I got to write about the local music scene for the Washington Post (thank you Richard Harrington and John Kelly). And the bands I was in with my brother Alan became part of that scene. When I moved to Nashville, I met Peter Cooper, who had spent his high school years in the D.C. area, and had attended those Thursday night tutorials at the Birchmere as well. This is our thank you to those days and places and people. This record wouldn't exist without you.
I’d get to the Birchmere by five p.m. No reserved seating.
Doors opened at six. Show at eight-thirty. First one in got his pick of tables.
My first time at the Birch was on my fifteenth birthday. We got there at seven and sat in the back. After that, I always got my pick of tables.
I’d sit there on Thursdays, staring up at the crease in Mike Auldridge’s jeans. He played dobro for the Seldom Scene, the band that opened me up to a world of acoustic roots music: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, the Stanley Brothers, Paul Craft, Tony Rice, John Prine, and all the others. I remember the way the multi-colored stage lights shone off of Mike’s dobro. I remember the harmonies, and the jokes, and the record store downstairs, and the feeling of being allowed into a world of mystery and intrigue and music.
I remember standing outside, waiting for the doors to open, listening through the walls as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith sound-checked.
I remember learning that what I was seeing and hearing at the Birchmere was a small bit of a larger, richer musical story. The Country Gentlemen, Emmylou Harris, the Johnson Mountain Boys, Red Allen, the Rosslyn Mountain Boys, Alice Gerrard, Mike Seeger, Tom Paxton… all of them, and many more, had breathed this air, and lived in this place.
I also remember meeting Eric Brace, some two decades later, in Nashville, Tennessee. We talked about the Seldom Scene, about the crease in Mike Auldridge’s blue jeans, and about how we likely shared many of the same music nights in the crowd, as young bucks at the Birch.
Then we formed a duo, and then we made a record with Mike, and recorded “Wait a Minute,” a song the Scene played every night.
And then we called friends together to make this, our hat-tip to what we heard, feel, and know, thanks to our time in the District, near the C&O Canal waters.
This ain’t Lee Atwater’s blues, or Bill Clinton’s saxophone, or the Singing Senators. This is D.C. music.