Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz
Red Beet Records
Riverland is the 2nd collaboration between singers, songwriters, and scholars Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Thomm Jutz. The 14 songs on the album have real weight and are a wonderful collection that are centered around both the state of Mississippi and the mighty Mississippi river herself. The stories contained in those songs spans the generations and while you can casually sit back and listen to some great music, if you dig into the lyrics you will see they are as intelligent as they are profound.
During a phone call, I asked the gentlemen about the album and their motivations behind the Mississippi theme. Peter said “The Mississippi story is such an American story, and a human story, and there’s so much there about the way we as people relate to each other, and the land, and the water, it’s fertile ground.” Thomm explained that “When we were down there after a gig, Peter said, “everything feels different” and we all went yeah, that’s right, lets run with that..sometimes you have an idea and you just run with that and you allow yourself to run with that, other stuff will pop up.”
Eric Brace, who owns Red Beat Records that the album is released on, and the third of the trio, added another perspective on the albums inspiration. “You can’t discuss the United States without the history of the Mississippi. Whether from prehistoric times to civil war times, to logging and the flood and the great depression…it runs through the middle of nearly every American story.”
That story is also laid out with great attention to detail as you look through the Riverland CD packaging. The photos that adorn the inside were all curated from the library of congress and, visually, help highlight what we hear in the songs. The lyrics to each song are printed inside the booklet, as well as a nice intro to set up each song. I highly suggest picking up a physical copy to really get the most of the Riverland experience.
“River City” starts off the album with music and lyrics that carry the sentiment of the river at her most gentle while a song like “Drowned and Washed Away” is about the great flood of 1927 that left nearly 630,000 people homeless. The legendary brawler, practical joker, and famed Keelboat man, Mike Fink, is the subject of the song “King of the Keelboat Men”. And, of course, you can’t have a Mississippi album without it’s importance to the Civil War and specifically General Grants siege on Vicksburg, MS as told in “Down along the River”.
There’s a natural flow through out the album that Eric expressed best when he said “Each song, somehow, manages to color, and reflect, and bleed into another song…there’s little references to other songs in there.” “Mississippi Magic” was written by Rev. Will D. Campbell, who is the subject of the previous track, “Old Tom T. and Brother Will”, and the only cover on the album. Peter explains “Will wrote “Mississippi Magic”, and I, with the approval of his children, and the approval of Tom T. Hall, I shifted it from the first person to the third person so I could sing it honestly.” That desire to put out honesty pervades the album and the final product is a collection of songs that highlight, educate, and reflect the nuances of each puzzle piece that is Mississippi.
Eric, Peter, and Thomm have outdone them selves with music and lyrics that capture not only the importance of the Mississippi river but also some of Mississippi’s most well known citizens. William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, and McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, are just a few of Mississippi’s contributions to be mentioned on the album and who are a part of our shared American story. Riverland is the smartest album I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in a while and the themes that run through out it are a pleasurable as my subsequent trips to the library to catch up on my history.
Riverland is now available from Red Beat Records as well as all the usual online retailers and streaming services. They will be heading overseas shortly for a run of dates before returning to the US in April. Visit their pages and get out to support this amazing project.