By Dennis Cook
Grayson Capps - a Southern singer-songwriter treasure with the straight shootin' eye of Johnny Cash melded to the hobo philosophizing of Townes Van Zandt – could be talking about himself when he says, "Life is freaky. There's so much damn art out there now you could have a Hank Williams and just miss that he's out there. In his age, you could count on your fingers and toes the guys out there doing it. Nowadays, this information era is mind-blowing." His inborn bullshit detector and natural humility would never allow him to place his name next to ol' Hank but there's little doubt the dapper Williams would have dug this scruffy hound dog.
His characters are the overlooked, the taken-for-granted, the sandwich makers and washers of laundry. Capps says they're "the invisible people that Carson McCullers talks about in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. I think it's a theme that was really heavy in my father's life that transferred to me through music. People get so concerned about these big dangling carrots that they forget about the clover under their feet."
When The Levee Breaks
Capps sophomore effort, Wail & Ride, sounds like what Little Feat's troubled genius Lowell George might have gotten around to if he'd lived long enough. Wail hums with quiet wisdom and unforced momentum. It grows with you over time, different facets touching a nerve depending on your own levels of sorrow and joy. Inspired by his longtime residence in New Orleans and subsequent exodus after Hurricane Katrina, Wail is a country-rock evensong that helps us reach the dawn.
"I went to Tulane University and I stayed in New Orleans after graduation. I was there for a little more than half my life. It's the only town in America I ever wanted to live in," laments Capps. "It's a little over-the-top right now. If I didn't have kids I'd probably be there still. It's [got] a twisted post-war vibe." At the suggestion that parts of city have gone feral, he snaps, "It was already like that, it's just one toke over the line now [laughs]. There's been some crazy murders, some crazy suicides. You can actually watch the earth eat the cemeteries."
There are hips to his writing, a joyous, open sensuality befitting a son of the Crescent City. Nowhere is this vibe more clear than "Give It To Me," a two-minute slap 'n' tickle sure to put a lil' lead in your pencil.
You got your devil in your dragon's eye
You got a black girl in your ass
I like the way you drink
Your wine from a coffee glass
"There's such an oppression of debauchery in this age," Capps observes. "People aren't afraid to destroy things secondhand so why not do it firsthand? Howlin' Wolf was my first love as a vocalist. You wonder how did he get that voice but I'm starting to understand the older I'm getting. After 20 years of singing and people telling me, 'You have a gravel-assessed, whiskey-soaked voice,' it's starting to make sense!"
That voice is able to sell humdingers like "You've got the magic of a mermaid" or "Cry me one tear so I'll know that I made you feel good," and the tunes skip along like a pair of moonshine polished lovers. "I'm fascinated with children's melodies," remarks Capps. "Dr. John said, 'Every song is Frankie And Johnny.' There's a lot of truth to that. You can write bad melodies or you can go to the great melodies already written and use them as themes. I'm a great fan of Woody Guthrie and that guy was a big thief of melody. I don't purposely steal melody. I just like the simplicity of melody."