J-Rad Cooley – Yard Sale
VizzTone Label Group VT-JRC-01
9 songs – 36 minute
A singer/songwriter who doubles on keys and harmonica, J-Rad Cooley makes his recording debut with this disc – and he does it in style, joining forces with Memphis-based producer Tony Holiday and perennial Blues Music Award contender and Grammy nominee Victor Wainwright sitting in on four of the nine cuts.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah and only 23 years old, J-Rad – aka Jared McLean Cooley – is already a gifted storyteller who mixes a touch of rock, jazz, ragtime and soul that’s steeped in the blues tradition. He started out as a guitar player at age 13, quickly switched instruments and has performed locally with The Arvos and Ol’ Fashion Depot, which evolved into his self-named band a year or so ago.
Cooley’s influences span the musical spectrum and include Lightnin’ Hopkins, Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson, Ray Charles, Dr. John and Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson, too. And you can hear a little of all of many of them in the grooves of this collection, which hints strongly of past eras across eight originals and one cover.
The album was laid down at Wild Feather Recording in Hendersonville, Tenn., with Zach Kasik, the bassist for Too Slim & the Taildraggers, at the controls. Both he and his bandleader, guitarist Tim “Too Slim” Langford, participated in the session along with guitarist Aubrey McCrady, drummer Shake E. Fowlkes, bassist Josh Karris and Wainwright on keys with Hannah Jason providing backing vocals.
J-Rad opens the original, “Livin’ Downtown,” on harp for a brief intro before launching into lyrics that describe the aftermath of a relationship gone bad. His vocals are pleasant and mid-range, and his touch on the reeds is light and clean. A funky, medium-paced shuffle, it features Victor on the 88s and call-and-response on the chorus. He shifts to keys for “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home,” a tune that first charted for Bessie Smith in 1923, and delivers it with a feel that would have fit comfortably in the decade it was created.
It dovetails nicely into the ballad “Now She’s a Drifter,” a harp-and-keys pleaser. Cooley stretches out vocally as he describes a former actress who’s now “flirting for dimes on Beale.” The feel shifts to a contemporary groove for “Running Away from My Hometown” as Langford shines on six-string as J-Rad serves of the complaint that, after leaving, he’s now tired of being alone.
“All Night Mama,” an unhurried, stop-time ballad with old-time appeal, features some tasty work on the 88s from Cooley and more vocal dynamics before Wainwright sits in again for the title track, “Yard Sale.” Delivered with Big Easy cool, the singer’s already pawned his prized possessions, but facing the reality that he’s got to do more despite working two jobs to make ends meet. The theme continues in “My Wallet’s Dry” and funk rises to the fore as J-Rad on harp and Victor trade riffs.
There’s a distinct aural shift at the open of “The World Will Call Me Mister,” a bluesy rocker that revisits the decision to leave home and is delivered prior to the actual departure. It precedes “Til’ Hate Is Gone,” a slow-paced contemporary number delivered from a position of peace and comfort, but looks forward to the time when the singer can reflect on the life he’s lived without regret.
J-Rad Cooley is a young man who bridges time and space to deliver music that’s fresh, but still deeply grounded in the past. An excellent debut, it’s well worth the listen and should put you on the lookout for even better works ahead.