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David Allen Coe - For the Soul and For the Mind

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Artist: David Allen Coe

Album: For the Soul and For the Mind

Label: Coepop

Review date: Aug. 7, 2005

In 1974, journeyman country songwriter David Allen Coe hit it big when Tanya Tucker recorded his song “Would You Lay With Me( in a Field of Stone).” This success ushered in his career as a singer-songwriter, and Coe rode into the public eye as part of the outlaw insurrection that included Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. Despite a rough and ready, larger than life image, and sometimes-outrageous stage presence, Coe never quite reached the iconic status of those other outlaws. But some of his songs sure did: he wrote “Willie, Waylon, and Me,” and Johnny Paycheck’s timeless anthem “Take This Job and Shove It.”

Turning back a page, For the Soul and For the Mind is a collection of songwriter demos from just before Coe’s big break. As such, it features simple voice and acoustic guitar recordings, along with some tracks backed up by a small honky tonk-style band: guitars, pedal steel, bass and drums. (The liner notes don’t make it exactly clear, but the sessions seem to have been helmed by producer and pedal steel guitar session giant Pete Drake.) Coe’s weary voice is a potent force within these stripped-down recordings, revealing an emotional transparency reminiscent of Merle Haggard and George Jones; even, at times, the raw Okie soul of Woody Guthrie.

These being demos, it’s all about the songs here. And some of them are stunning. Coe has a way of taking the themes and clichés of classic country music, twisting and turning them, imbuing them with torrents of imagery and impressions. “This Old Truck,” for example, reinvents the trucker song, adding a spiritual and mystical resonance to the idea of truck and driver on a mission, imparting hope and charity on an apostolic highway journey through life. “No Place Left to Run” is Coe’s take on the postcard song ("I've been to..."), but it goes darker and deeper, telling the story of a man torn living in a modern world of rock ‘n’ roll and endless wandering, while his soul yearns for the roots of family, home, and country music.

Coe’s own roots are in Ohio coal mining country, and the Appalachian cultural seam that runs through his work separates it from that of his fellow outlaws. All of Coe’s strengths are on display on the spellbinding epic “A Cold Lump Of Coal.” It’s a classic murder ballad, but layered with personal and Biblical symbolism, and a nightmarish inevitability to the narrative. And the knife-twist ending cuts to the vein of faith, guilt, and redemption at the heart of his work.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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