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Published: 2012/12/12
by Brian Robbins

Mike Cooley
The Fool On Every Corner

Cooley Records

Here you go, folks: a big helping of pure Mike Cooley, straight up. No Drive-By Trucker bandmates; no electric guitar; heck – not even a frigging pick. The Fool On Every Corner is the next best thing to having Cooley sitting on a stool in your kitchen with his acoustic guitar (and the occasional banjo) playing, singing, cracking jokes and … well … just being Cooley.

Recorded by longtime Trucker collaborator (and sound/vibe wizard) David Barbe, The Fool On Every Corner offers an excellent overview of Cooley’s songwriting career (including one brand-new number) along with a sweet cover of the old Charlie Rich classic “Behind Closed Doors”. The risk with any collection such as this is leaving out someone’s favorite song, of course. That being a given, Fool does a damn fine job as a Cooley compendium just the same.

Recorded during a three-show run last March, The Fool On Every Corner has the feel, sound, and vibe of a single-night performance, sequenced with just-right ebb-and-flow. “Loaded Gun In The Closet” starts things off gently – a nice chance to absorb Cooley’s lyrics and take in his melodic, hybrid fingerpicking. The change-ups begin by the second cut: Cooley hauls out his banjo (and that old guy-goes-into-a-bar-and-leaves-his-car-unlocked-with-the-banjo-inside joke) and lays into “Cottonseed”, his voice and stark-sounding 5-string combining to create a tension that’s ideal for the song and its story. It’s back to the guitar after that, with Cooley’s rave-up “Guitar Man Upstairs” rearranged for fingers and a big thumb. The first three cuts are typical of the album’s ever-changing moods; and it’s easy enough to forget that there’s just one very-talented good ol’ boy doing it all.

Rockers such as “Marry Me” and “3 Dimes Down” – traditionally showcases for the Truckers’ multi-guitar churn and wail – come off well here. Cooley obviously did more than just unplug; he rebuilt these tunes to get the most out of them in the solo acoustic setting, retaining their rhythmic drive and punch, while giving the stories they tell a chance to shine all the more.

Stripping “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” to its frame allows Cooley’s admiration for the men he’s singing about to come through loud and clear; “Shut Up And Get On The Plane” is infused with some nasty-ass blues picking between the verses; and this setting is ideal for the dirt-road bounce of “Cartoon Gold”. “Drinking Coke And Eating Ice” makes its recording debut here, closing the album with some new t-shirt-ready Cooleyisms and a tale that’s as deep as you want it to be.

The Fool On Every Corner does just what a good live album should do: it sets you down smack-dab in the middle of these shows with some fine, fine playing and singing – recorded masterfully with just enough room vibe to make it real. Crank it up and don’t worry about the drive home … you’re already there.

*****

Brian Robbins has never left a banjo in his backseat, but he does have a bouzouki at www.brian-robbins.com.

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