Grayson Capps | South Front Street | (The Royal Potato Family)
4 out of 5 stars
The “capps” in the band called Willie Sugarcapps has the first name of Grayson and a thick catalog packed with rugged, raw, folksy/swampy singer/songwriter material dating back to his early band Stavin’ Chain, circa 1999.
As a solo artist though, Capps had been releasing about an album a year, most for the small Hyena label in the mid-00’s, but has recently slowed his production down considerably. A full six years transpired between 2011’s The Lost Cause Minstrels and 2017’s Scarlett Roses, the last full collection of Capps’ originals away from the Willie Sugarcapps collective. His discography of seven albums is filled with poetic, picturesque songs detailing the lives and loves of characters he has run across predominantly in New Orleans, the city where the Alabama born, raised and currently based musician lived until being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Now in his 50s, the time is right for a career overview. And who better to do that than perhaps the person who knows him best, his wife…producer/engineer/mixer Trina Shoemaker?
She compiled and remixed many of these 16 selections presenting a reasonable summation of Capps’ largely, and unfairly, unheard music. His languid Southern drawl and deep, near baritone voice create a perfect vehicle for a set of detailed, often melancholy but dry-witted story songs, each of which could be expanded into a feature movie. Even his love tunes are quirky as he sings on “Hold Me Darlin’” “Hold me like an old wisteria vine/Hanging on to that old Alabama pine…Give me a drag off of your cigarette.”
For better or worse, Shoemaker focuses on Capps’ more pensive folk side, only including a few rockers like the slow pumping, Tony Joe White-styled “I Can’t Hear You.” Capps leans into the blues too, specifically on the Delta stylings of “If You Knew My Mind” where his talents on acoustic slide guitar are featured. On it he sings about a dysfunctional relationship with “I know you’re twenty-two and I ruined your life/But please pretty baby put down that kitchen knife.”
Unlike many singer/songwriters where a lyric sheet is essential to decipher the words, Capps enunciates in his deep red clay inflection with an audio mix that brings his voice upfront. That makes it easy to fall into the music’s rabbit hole, cozying up to characters like Freebird (who lives upstairs at the Hummingbird Hotel), Gate Junior, Washboard Lisa, and Bobby Long. The latter is the titular character from A Love Song for Bobby Long, a movie crafted from a story Capps’ father wrote to which his son contributed the music. He also tells of the dilapidated place he used to live, the street of which is the title of this album.
Those looking for an hours’ worth of meticulously crafted, colorful stories of working-class folks who will never live the American dream can start here then work their way back through the rest of Grayson Capps’ rich, enduring and frustratingly overlooked catalog.
We spoke with Capps and Shoemaker earlier this week, check out what they said about the project.