Not too long ago, independent bands used to pine for contracts with major record labels. Nowadays, recording artists who used to be on major labels are going independent. This maneuvering toward independent status might’ve sounded like career suicide a decade ago, but that’s exactly what Brooklyn-based Citizen Cope has done since his fourth studio album, 2010’s The Rainwater LP. His latest release, One Lovely Day, is proof that musicians need not be starving artists if they go the independent route. When I spoke to Citizen Cope a few shows into his tour promoting his latest release, he insisted that the move to being an independent artist didn’t mean he wasn’t trying to “cut any corners”. Although a first listen will confirm that corners weren’t cut with regard to production, the fat is most certainly absent on the record, as the 10-song collection clocks in around 35 minutes in length—a move that makes for a very focused record, one that is sure to please longtime and new fans alike.
The album’s title track was to be recorded by Chuck Brown before the late singer passed away earlier this year. Although the version here is offered with a string accompaniment, it’s hard not to wonder how the mood of the song would’ve shifted in the hands of Brown, a man that Citizen Cope called a “big mentor” to him over the years. Cope’s version here is nicely arranged, but it’s a bit over-produced to be considered the album’s best track. It’s a fine tune for a bright summer day, but it won’t be song listeners put on repeat for any length of time.
For those who are drawn to Cope’s reggae-tinged sound, there’s plenty of that here, too. “Something to Believe In” and “A Wonder” come the closest to marrying reggae and hip-hop, but those acquainted with his music will know that this isn’t a particularly novel combination for Cope. As one might expect, the vast majority of One Lovely Day is familiar territory, confirming that Cope’s artistry is found not so much in inventing something radically new, but in refining and arranging various genres. Like his previous releases, Cope takes the helm as an aural mixologist much more so than a virtuoso musician. Although he succeeds at his craft throughout the album, the attempts here are less daring than on previous releases.
It’s no surprise that the best tracks on One Lovely Day channel the spirit of the songs that made Cope popular almost a decade ago. “DFW”, a break-up song (or maybe one about traveling far away from a woman) rests on a mild funk (and highly-mixed) bass line accompanied by Cope’s usual palm-muted guitar. The song, whose name is presumably inspired by the Dallas Fort-Worth airport, proves yet again that Cope can do quite a lot with just a few words (the line “I had to say goodbye to my baby today” gets repeated with startlingly nice results) and a rather simple melody.
There are also a few ballads on the record that are notable. Cope, who told me he writes most of his songs on guitar, found room to include “For a Dollar”, a stripped-down ballad with subtle politically motivated lyrical content using only vocals and acoustic guitar. “Southern Nights”, a song that ends with Cope wishing he “could stop this world from fighting”, is a beautiful tune that also features only piano, guitar and vocals, proving that the singer-songwriter doesn’t need to push the envelope with regard to genre or complex instrumentation in order to reap substantial rewards. The songs that make up the second half of the album are touching without being sappy and show that there is plenty left in Cope’s tank should he pursue an acoustic record (a project he told me he plans to record when he’s finished touring for his One Lovely Day).
Although the strings, subtly placed samples and varied instrumentation throughout One Lovely Day make for a calmer and more adult-contemporary sound compared to his previous releases, there is a strong correlation between fast tempos and the quality of song on the album. This isn’t to say that the more deliberate, slower songs are throwaways, but it’s obvious that Cope is at his best when there’s a sense of urgency in his voice.