Delayed Plays: The Copper Album by Hank Erwin

A late night. A late morning. I plugged a K-Cup into the Keurig machine and brewed much-needed resuscitation, then slumped into the desk chair as if it was my bed. Checked email, social media and the news, where reports about the Omicron variant are omnipresent. Panic is in the air, though it need not be: Pfizer says, if necessary, it can retool its vaccine to protect against it. I brewed another cup of coffee and queued up Hank Erwin’s full-length debut, The Copper Album. A publicist, of all people, recommended it to me a few weeks after its October 22nd release; that she sought to promote it after the fact, which rarely happens, says much. Music has no sell-by date, after all, but too often is treated as if it does. Anyway, I listened to it that same day and, when the music started, just slipped away.

A few weeks and several listens on, my initial reaction remains the same. At its best, it’s a remarkable outing that mines the border regions of ‘70s-flavored rock, southern rock and outlaw country, with some Americana-flavored folk thrown into the mix. If you ever wondered what Waylon Jennings would’ve sounded like fronting ‘90s-era Crazy Horse, in other words, wonder no more. Think thud-thick rhythms, arcing guitars and gritty vocals that, at times, conjure Jennings’ lived-in baritone. Two tracks push past seven minutes, one past 10. Time stops during them. 

For background’s sake, I should say that, as a kid, Erwin sometimes accompanied his trucker dad on the road and, as an adult, served in the Merchant Marines; those life experiences can be discerned in his lyrics, as can his bouts with cancer, depression and homelessness. He says in his website’s bio that, by age 34, he felt as if he was ready to die but, instead, found a new lease on life while staying with friends in a small town in northern Arizona.

I’ll eschew a track-by-track analysis simply because albums like this play as one long song with intermittent starts and stops. (To quote the bard Neil Young, “It’s all one song!”) At times, like I said, it plays like Waylon fronting Crazy Horse; other times it’s akin to Hank Jr. in his prime. That’s not to say it’s perfect. The first and second halves each possess a few speed bumps that steal from the overall flow. But, by the closing “Hell or Harlan (Reprise) [Brittany’s Melody],” all is forgiven. It’s a hypnotic tour de force.

He’s backed throughout by a crack band that includes Shonna Tucker on bass and harmony vocals; Adam Nurre on drums; Daniel Stoddard on pedal steel and organs; Jonathon Farley on trumpets; Nick Ware on harmony vocals; and Kimi Samson on strings. He handles lead guitar, obviously, and—wow. Just wow. 

Give this one a go, folks. Crank it up!

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