Singer/songwriter Cooper Greenberg is based in San Antonio and Austin, Texas. In 2018 he released a full band album titled Dream Sequence. For his brand new collection titled Silverbelly Greenberg essentially became a one man band, except for the drums which are played by engineer Tommy Munter. His goal was to create a ’70s inspired record similar to Joni Mitchell and George Harrison; as he progressed, touches of ’90s acoustic and shoegaze music appeared. He states that his writing style “combines intricate, guitar-driven melodies with personal, storytelling lyrics.”
Greenberg is what I’d call a stealth artist. In his notes he mentions his pride in his guitar solos for this album; I think self confidence is great, but it also sets me up with a “show me!” attitude. That he does! His singing (reminiscent of Matthew Sweet), songwriting and musicianship are all stellar, and without any warning whatsoever he lets rip with complex but seemingly effortless guitar solos that had me reeling.
Recording, mixing and mastering all took place at Matador Recording Studios. The digital Pro Tools mixes were run through a vintage Otari MX5050 tape machine for analog warmth. The resulting album sounds professional all the way through with instruments occasionally wandering across the stereo field.
“Kickers and Heads” starts the album in a gentle country rock mode with verses that nicely veer between major and minor keys. My initial impression was that Greenberg is similar to The Eagles, but better in many ways. He quickly establishes his player bonafides on the guitars, bass, keys and sharp lead breaks. Chiming and catchy.
“Remember This” is a laid back acoustic reverie in James Taylor mode; short and sweet. “Salted Plum” is a vocal tune where the focus is on interwoven jazz licks from Greenberg’s guitar along with some cool backwards effects with an established beat only cropping up at the very end. The title track “Silverbelly” takes a Little Feat tack for an upbeat rockabilly excursion, and this was the first time I was caught by surprise at Greenberg’s lead guitar dexterity.
The gentle “Today Is The Last Day I Can Keep This To Myself” features Barney Kessel-like guitar picking with what sounds like female guest backup vocals, though it could be Greenberg speeding himself up. Another “Why do I even try playing guitar when this guy is around” jazzy guitar solo takes centerstage. “Grand Canyon” follows with a similar tempo and melody with the addition of Eagles or Allman Brothers harmony guitars that are built into a kind of stringed choir. Greenberg takes a moment to get out his slide and adds yet another color to the proceedings.
“Topanga” changes direction again for an almost baroque acoustic reverie that again recalls the best of James Taylor. “Desert Sweethearts” is another sweet, quiet tune that pushes Greenberg’s vocals into a reverb netherland while his guitars run up and down the neck like trilling birds. “More Of The Same” actually goes deeper into Matthew Sweet or Byrds territory (especially “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star”) with jangly electric guitars in a solid folk rock groove. Again, the little chord switches and guitar trills Greenberg throws in take this song - and most of the others - miles from anything you’re expecting.
The album closes with “Sind Sie Bereit? Fangen Wir An!” (That’s “Are you ready? Let’s start!” In English. You’re welcome.) This is possibly the fuzziest song on the album: a blast of medium-paced hard rock with a final, shorter solo and a bit of melodic feedback.
So there you have it: a highly impressive collection of songs and performances that may not be 100% perfect but gets about as close as anyone could hope. Looking forward to more from the talented Mr. Greenberg!
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