City Paper is not for tourists
Citizen Cope is an anachronism. The D.C.-bred blues-funk rocker, whose followers include everyone from hip-hop kids to Jack Johnson disciples to adult-contemporary fans, talks about things like the “integrity” of his “art.” For this reason, the man born Clarence Greenwood recently turned down beaucoup bucks to license one of his songs to a deodorant commercial, which is not the kind of thing many artists are doing during this time of industry implosion. Cope—a veteran of Capital, DreamWorks, and Arista/RCA—has also spurned major label money to release his latest album, The Rainwater LP, on his own Rainwater Recordings. Sure, many fading artists speak of “opting” to release their music themselves, but most don’t really have a choice. With the decent amount of mainstream exposure he’s had, Cope likely did. After all, he’s been featured on a Carlos Santana album, and his signature single, 2004’s “Bullet and a Target,” remains a beloved commentary on self-loathing and addiction. The self-produced Rainwater, then, is an opportunity to present his uncorrupted vision. Perhaps predictably, the results are often self-indulgent, but there are moments of unvarnished grandeur. His vocals dominate the mix, backed by acoustic guitars and modest percussion. This was a smart decision, as his granular, slightly affected drawl is as memorable as that of the Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz, if not so pandering. The tunes themselves feel especially bluesy, not in terms of chord progressions or repetitive structures but in themes and moods. Tracks like “Keep Askin’” and “The Newspaper” are proudly gloomy, and even ostensibly upbeat songs like “Healing Hands” emphasize the suffering and corruption that necessitate healing. (“The actions of a few have put the world in harm’s way,” he sings.) He’s come a long way since his days as DJ for Basehead; indeed, all traces of hip-hop in his style have been thoroughly washed over in favor of anxious strumming and mopey drums. The pace never really picks up, and it never really slows all the way down; it just sort of plods along in second gear. All the while, Cope preaches on the evils of the American government and dispatches clichés like, “World keeps turnin’/Sun keeps burnin’.” Of course, as an independent artist, this is his prerogative. One suspects, however, that just a smidgen of capitalist concern might have lit a fire under his ass.