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Scott Cooper : Strumming

REVIEW: Scott Cooper: Strumming
5.27.2002 by Sean

Scott Cooper: *strumming* [Bananafish Stuff, 2002]

Three words? Warm strumming. More?

The world would be a darker place without singer-songwriters like Scott Cooper. Cooper plays and sings unpretentious pop of the most likable kind - campfire sing-a-long songs over strummed guitar. From the instrumental, blippy "There Are No Words" that opens this album, to the crickets that close it, Cooper presents a warmth and a kindness. Most of the tracks are unadorned guitar & vocals, and all fall closer to Dave Matthews' sentimentality than to the Mountain Goats' rural wisdom. Still, Cooper isn't shooting for Dylan here - he's that hemp-necklaced guy sitting at the pub and playing his heart out. Though Strumming won't move you, it's consistent in its earnesty, skillful in its sweetness.

"All the Lies" is the album's best showcase for Cooper's talents. It's a bouncy pop tune - acoustic guitar underlined with competent electric - carried along by brisk, bouncy drumming. It's a simple love song, lovable, huggable, like the summer rockers of Vertical Horizon or the Barenaked Ladies. There is some sophistication in the music here, however - some je ne sais quoi that hints at an alt.pop ear. Though Cooper may be content to sing simple nice-guy tropes, I can't help but hear a more vulnerable potential. Ultimately, this comes at the expense of the disc as a whole: it's hard to completely embrace this solid but conventional music when it whispers of deeper, unexpressed emotion. Sure, acoustic guitar ballads are nice - and Cooper's got the genre well under his belt - but there's something of a tease here, as if the songwriter's chosen to take the easy route. "Touch" could swerve into Elliott Smith darkness or "Maye" might become a little less jangly and a little more, er, I Am Kloot... Even at a more superficial level, Cooper would benefit from a real band; the electric backbone of "All the Lies" is what makes it work so well, and I get the sense Cooper's honey-sweet voice would form the foundation for a superb powerpop trio/quartet - see Ben Folds Five/Sloan/Cool Blue Halo. Strumming shows Scott Cooper can sing, can play - but can he rock? Can he cry?

Ultimately, Strumming is a most apt title for this disc: Cooper's music is pleasant and vague, with open chords and a wide, embracing voice. His songs are well worth listening to - and much of them are available online for free - and though he deserves success, here's hoping this success brings a maturity (however trite the phrase may be) and some corresponding musical exploration.

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