in the lounge
The Weather Machine
Sam Cooper and Friends, The Sarcastic Dharma Society
4811 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR, 97215
This event is 21 and over
Sam Cooper and Friends
Cooper, a Boulder native, fronted several ensembles in his hometown before moving to Portland in 2007 and making a name for himself as a multi-instrumentalist with bands including Invisible Rockets, Jared Mees & the Grown Children, and Horse Feathers. Now, after several years of developing his technique as an accompanist on instruments less-familiar than his mainstay guitar, Cooper has leapt back into the role of frontman.
He teams up with the talents of Jake Maynard and Yeah Great Fine veterans Jake Hershman, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nick Werth, and Nathaniel Daniel to perform his new album, “Long Lost Love.” The album’s 11 tracks are a delightful and heartfelt peek inside Cooper’s diverse bag of musical tricks. He arranged and recorded nearly every sound on “Long Lost Love” — a laundry list that begins with lead vocals and harmonies, and continues with instruments from piano, guitar, mandolin and banjo to violin, accordion and charango, a South American lute. Nick Werth lent his expertise on drum set and percussion.
“I wanted it to be something that could be performed live, given four or five or six band members,” he says. “And I wanted instruments that didn’t necessarily have to be plugged in.”
Cooper draws from multiple musical genres to create a sound at once comfortingly familiar and totally unreplicated. His music is early American rock ‘n’ roll mixed with Americana, modern folk, a tinge of pop and a hint of bluegrass, but it’s confined to none of those genres. Tracks on “Long Lost Love” range from the vintage doo-wop of the intro to the drippy revelation of closing track “Paint.” In between, rich lyrics and instrumental complexity make the listener’s feet stomp, hearts ache, leaving them craving another spin.
“I wanted it to gel with people’s lives in a way that speaks to them,” he says. “It’s almost a sense of trying to tap into that shared thing that I feel and that other people feel, and letting it resonate.”
During live shows, the songs shed some of the album’s orchestral white collar and put on a rock ‘n’ roll t-shirt, with violin lines translated to creamy telecaster riffs and the tempo turned up a notch.
Hershman and Maynard’s seamless harmonies, and the band members’ evident camaraderie infuse the songs with a boisterous and jovial spirit. Expect a heavy sprinkling of new takes on old folk ballads, as well as old-timey refashionings of modern tunes. There’ll also likely be ample audience interaction, as Cooper is known to take a crack at even the most obscure audience request.
Cooper drifts into tangential musings on music theory, history and geography when asked to describe his influences. As much as he is a master musician, he’ll never stop being a student of a craft he sees as “an academic and spiritual pursuit.”
The band’s accessibility sets it apart from other indie musicians who establish a sound of the day, and rarely waver from their sweet spot. Cooper’s music is without pretention or exclusivity.
“I’m more interested in what you can do with a good chord progression and storyline than in a particular sound, having the sound serve the song instead of the other way around,” he says.
The result is geared toward the ears of no one in particular, but everyone in general — as likely to appeal to teenage hipsters as suburban soccer moms.
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