THE COAL MEN: Beauty is a Moment"Some people measure life in years. Dave Coleman measures it in moments. And capturing the impact of a moment is what the singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of The Coal Men set out to do on "Beauty Is a Moment," the band's second full-length release.
For instance, there's the moment on the title track when a boy swings an axe and brings a glacier crashing down. "There was a cliff behind our old house where we used to go in the winter," Coleman reminisced of his Jamestown, Tenn., childhood. "We would take these bats and axes and break all the ice down. It was amazing to see it just crashing to the creek bed. It's one of those pure memories of growing up."
Or, more recently, the moments he, drummer Dave Ray and bassist 'Hitch' Hitchcock spent recording "Beauty" at producer/engineer Brian Carter's Paradox Studios in rural Murfreesboro, Tennessee, not far from where the band was founded in 1999. "It's such a comfortable little house; it's like going to Grandma's," Recording "Beauty" live took just seven days at Paradox, amid Carter's collection of vintage amplifiers, tube pre-amps, microphones and a 16-track Ampex analog tape machine. "It was all done on analog so there's not a lot of changing once it's down. You kind of have to live with it and accept it for what it is, a musical moment," Coleman says.
A series of Polaroids taken during the sessions make up the album art. The first one, a moody shot of a telephone wire angled against a late November sky, graces the cover.
"Beauty," scheduled for an April release, spans The Coal Men's full range of capabilities, from delicate acoustic stylings to straight-out rock, with a touch of country twang that hints at the band's Southern roots. Most of all, it's a collaboration of talents. In the past year, longtime friends Coleman, Ray and Hitch brought on friends - and seasoned performers - Chris Frame (Son Volt) on guitar and Jen Gunderman (The Jayhawks, Dag) on keyboards. Together, the five perform with the assurance of musicians who've spent many a long night together - "one of Music City's strongest, nerviest rock acts," according to Tennessean music critic Peter Cooper.
Ultimately, though, the album rests on the songs honed by Coleman and friends Carter Little (Saddlesong), Robert Reynolds (The Mavericks), Mark Winchester (Brian Setzer Orchestra, Emmylou Harris) and Milan Miller (The Wrights, Jubal Foster.) The dozen tracks on "Beauty" show a definite maturing for Coleman, who signed with Acuff/Rose Publishing at 20 but has moved toward more of a rock vein in his songwriting, guitar playing and stage presence with The Coal Men, whose first release was 2004's critically-acclaimed "Nowhere's Too Far," produced by veteran singer/songwriter Bob Delevante (The Delevantes).
Just 26 years old, Coleman laughs when it's pointed out how many of his songs come from the wry viewpoint of the underdog, especially when it comes to romance on "Natural Wonder" (You are a natural wonder/And I was born to lose) or "On My Way Down," co-written with Miller (You're movin' up in the world/While I'm still on my way down.)
"There was no intention to make it a 'loser' song," he says of the latter. "We just wanted to write a simple song and make it all really relevant. The story line is about an ex-girlfriend who had dumped me and moved on and done really well. In retrospect, I'm really happy for her. I like that concept of the underdog. I don't know if it's humility or low self-esteem," he jokes. "Songwriting becomes therapy. When things are going great, rarely do I write a song about it."
Experience brings some hard lessons, as on the gentle "The Way You Needed Love," co-written with Robert Reynolds, that examines feelings that linger years after the end of a relationship, and "Cleveland Sky," written about a balloon festival Coleman played in Cleveland, Oklahoma.
"Because it was in Oklahoma, the winds blew the balloons to a different town," he recalls. "I guess when you go ballooning, there's no telling where you're going to end up. But I like that analogy to a relationship: even if you have a really good direction, you never really know where it's going to go."
And a clear sense yearning permeates the album, whether for simpler times in the laid-back blues rocker "Sweet In the Pines" (I would fall farther/I would love a little deeper/If we could start all over and do it again) or for love, in the infectious stomper "Outside Lookin' In" (Guys are gettin' lucky/Not me), a ready-for-radio crowd pleaser at live shows.
"Outside Lookin' In" and "Delicate," the dark portrait of an ex-girlfriend on the verge of breaking, were co-written with Carter Little and also show up his 2005 release Dare to be Small.
Another song written with Little is "All the Same," a rejection of a culture that keeps requiring more to be satisfied. "Everybody just wants it to be so full-throttle all the time," Coleman explains. "Everything's got to be so damn entertaining and so damn beautiful. Whenever you see something with subtlety, like a live show with dynamic range, or hear a song with a little depth, it's hard to cut through to people who are bashed over the head with volume up to 10 entertainment. Everything can start to sound the same."
On "Beauty Is a Moment," The Coal Men prove that beautiful doesn't have to be full-throttle. They're fully capable of turning it up to 10. But they can also roll down the volume a notch.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Pretty Girls
2. Natural Wonder
3. Beauty is a Moment
4. Sweet in the Pines
5. Outside Lookin' In
6. Cleveland Sky
8. All the Same
9. On My Way Down
10. The Way You Needed Love
11. Come To Me