It’s a good day when I discover a musician who plays the kind of music I love but who I’ve never heard of before. Turner Cody is just the latest. He’s been making music for like 20 years now, and I probably should have been a fan all those years. If you’ve not heard of him either, it’s your lucky day, too!
Cody’s early music was part of the New York lo-fi, anti-folk scene. But in 2017 he found himself on tour in Canada with Belgian producer and musician Nicolas Michaux and his band The Soldiers of Love. It was one of those peanut-butter-and-chocolate situations, or maybe gin and tonic, but either way, they hit it off and have been making music together ever since. With Michaux producing and the Soldiers as his studio band, they’ve put together a gem of an album called Friends in High Places.
Michaux works from a place influenced by French minimalism, and it shows in this record’s production and arrangements – clean, minimal instrumentation, vocals out front, and deceptively simple arrangements that feature chiming electric guitars, burbling Wurlitzer organ, occasional pedal steel, and a deep groove from the rhythm section. All of that puts the focus squarely on Cody’s sharply observed poetic lyrics. The lyrics and vocal stylings conjure up some chimerical conjoining of Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons, and Michael Hurley.
Take one of the album’s singles, “Lonely Days In Hollywood.” It chunks along on a country soul groove like Parsons at his best, the lyrics sketching an airy bitterness at the twisted but intractable dreams of Tinseltown.
Similar characters inhabit many of these songs, like the sad, fallen high rollers in the lilting musette-style waltz, “The Four Thousand Dollar Days” who is now “… back fishing dimes from the jar.” But most of the characters in these songs probably never even got close to Hollywood or throwing handfulls of bills on the bar. Like the guy in the opening track “Boozing And Losing,” a woozy slow shuffle about a guy who’s unlucky in love and, you suspect, everything else:
That same thing is broke in me
That’s broke in all mankind
I’m just boozing and losing my mind.
That kind of sharp writing abounds on this album. One of my favorites is “Telling Stories,” which is set in a bouncy swinging beat with jaunty electric guitar licks and that Wurlitzer set on high tremolo, with lyrics that plumb the kind of frustrated introspection so many of us have experienced during the past year.
The high-stakes drama was a let down
And we don’t know what was real and what was fake
The plot turned on some dime novel romance
And now we’re telling ourself stories for our sake.
The title song is a kind of chunky shuffle that epitomizes Cody’s and this band’s style, which their publicity calls “continental country.” It has lyrics that are mildly sardonic, and a bit cryptic, of course, blending Wall Street jargon with a bit of biblical imagery: “I’m short on tomorrow but I’m long on yesterday / My eye is on the sparrow where the lonely go to pray.” There’s a deep country soul groove courtesy of bassist Ted Clark on “Nothing But Regrets,” and is there a hint of some of the racial reckoning the U.S.A. is going through in these lines? “I published some good songs set in the fingering of G / With a note of Stephen Foster and a coat of R. E. Lee / But neither of the two can tell me which blood red sun sets / On a lifetime of living with nothing but regrets.”
(Capitane Records, 2021)