Apart from 2013’s self-titled collective Willie Sugarcapps album, with Will Kimbrough, Corky Hughes, and Sugarcane Jane, we haven’t heard new material from Grayson Capps since 2011. Of the illustrious bunch on that record, only Hughes remains, wrangling guitars and co-producing here with Trina Shoemaker and Capps. Recorded over two days in as many studios, these nine songs are chock-full of Capps’ poetic lyricism, and raw, rumbling grooves that meld Gulf Coast country, edgy garage rock (think Crazy Horse in their prime), folk, and blues.
The title track offers martial snares and interwoven electric guitars in a lament for love and the long-gone time that birthed it. “Hold Me Darlin”…
…is a jaunty, Piedmont-style blues rocker that’s also rooted in New Orleans R&B. Its tender lyric is road weary but celebratory. “Bag of Weed” is a rolling country rocker that actually makes room for Capps’ earthy lyrics. The medications listed in the refrain, pot, George Dickel, and a case of beer, aren’t for drowning sorrows, but for celebrating the survival of life’s trials. The strolling groove eventually ratchets up to explode in rockist glory. The syncopated blues-rock in “You Can’t Turn Around” is a manifesto of perseverance. Hughes burns in his lead break while Russ Broussard’s snare drum kicks up a ruckus. Topically, Capps shifts to gratitude for the stomping roots rock of “Thankful” with its snare breaks, wound-out guitars, and a stomping 2/4 roll affirmed by Shoemaker’s backing vocals. The tune takes everything in, good and band, day by day, and accepts it all as the spokes in the wheel of personal transformation. He builds on that with “New Again,” a lithe, languid, beautiful Americana ballad where Capps (and Dylan LeBlanc on backing vocals) shares hard-won worldly wisdom: “I take the gold from the sun/Hold it close when the day is done/Keep the fire inside me until the dawn…Remember Coco Robicheaux/He said I had a real young soul/Many lives to lead until the end/I’m getting old, my friends have died/I never got to say goodbye/They’re dead, they don’t miss you when they’re gone….” “Hit ‘Em Up Julie” is a ripping, slide guitar and harmonica blues stomp, while “Taos” is a droning, eight-minute psych-inflected rocker with screaming six strings. Closer “Moving On” is a proper bookend; it turns the record back on itself to reflect the title track but takes it further down the road emotionally and physically. It’s lucid, relaxed, and pointed, as the band builds a foundation under gorgeous layered vocal harmonies. Its lyrics reflect a time that, while eternally present, has been all but left behind.
The conflicts and dangers it depicts are global, archetypal, and personal, refracted in a psychic mirror as warning signs against complicity and ignorant contentment. Knowing how closely these are all tied together is, after all, wisdom, and makes for great songwriting. Scarlett Roses is the roots rock record we’ve been waiting for from Capps.