Okra & Ecclesiastes
Just one listen to "Okra and Ecclesiastes" confirms there is something about this record that separates Grants Peeples from the vast, strumming herd of singer/songwriters that graze upon the airwaves. These songs are noticeably bereft of nostalgia, cliché and sentimentality. The writing is intelligent, clear and powerful; it's poetic without being obtuse. "I try to work with imagery as building blocks to narrative," Peeples says. "Sometimes the challenge is to get the words themselves out of the way of the song, to keep them from interfering with the story." Although it's vividly striped with southern idiom and nuance, there is nothing on this album that smacks of gratuitous twang, there's no patronizing of the Fatherland. "Sweat-stains and re-treads" trump sweet tea, front porch swings, and white picket fences. And "a package store across the highway from the poultry plant," is the indelible image of where the Truth now lies. Peeples spent the better part of the last two decades as an expat, living on remote Little Corn Island, off the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua. "Okra and Ecclesiastes" is born of the radically changed New South landscape he encountered on his return. And even though the tunes reflect more of a worldview than a provincial one, that old tobacco barn in the empty field across from the Wal-Mart looks decidedly different after listening to this record. Produced by Gurf Morlix (Ray Wiley Hubbard, Lucinda Williams, Slaid Cleaves), the tracking is cut-down, crisp, lyric-driven, and infused with the cleverly crafted guitar licks upon which Morlix built his name. All the songs, however, seem to balance themselves on the rhythmic contributions of drummer Rick Richards, whose immense discography includes playing on Ray Wiley Hubbard's 'Snake Farm.' Peeples credits Richards for bringing him and Morlix together in the studio. "When I heard 'Snake Farm' the drum sounds just slayed me," he says. "I was working---struggling---in the studio at the time, and I wrote Gurf and asked him if he minded sharing how he got those killer drum sounds on Ray's record. He wrote back and said: 'Well, you have to start with a really good drummer.' That was Gurf 101 for me. This huge light went off. It was a lesson I'll always remember: great recordings begin with great performances. In the Digital Age I think we tend to approach the process the other way around. Or backwards. In any case, I began dreaming about having these guys in the delivery room one day when I made a record. I started sending songs to Gurf. He listened to about forty before he heard the album that's now become 'Okra and Ecclesiastes.'"