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His grandmother sang in the choir and he remembers singing songs from the hymnal as a little kid, listening as the sound of all those voices floated up to the rafters and seemed to settle into the steeple that casts a shadow over the altar.
“It has this place in my head and my heart where everything sounds great,” said Cooper, who moved to Tucson with his mother and stepfather when he was 11.
Last summer, when his full band tour wound its way to his hometown, Cooper had a crazy idea: Why not record in that church that held so many memories for him and his family?
He reached out to his father, who still lives in Springfield and had him ask the church’s officials if he and his band could record there. They agreed, but said he could only be in the church for eight hours.
Cooper intended to record an entire album, but after the band set up their instruments and the recording equipment and started to play, they got feedback in their amps from a nearby radio station. So they unplugged and decided to go acoustic.
They recorded five songs and settled on three — “Runaway” and “Shimmy” off Cooper’s 2018 album “White Horse” and a cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” — for an EP they called “Little Flower Sessions” in honor of the church.
“We went in there to kind of make a cool album with no intention of it being the way it sounded,” Cooper said of the EP, which was recorded in one take with no overdubs. The album comes out on Friday, June 26.
On the EP, Cooper’s rough-hewn baritone resonates almost as an echo off the church’s rich acoustics. There’s a raw purity to the recording that takes you into that little church and plunks you down in the very same pews where Cooper sang hymns surrounded by three generations of his family.
“Runaway,” stripped to its acoustic bones, has a renewed energy and playfulness, while the sexually charged “Shimmy” imbues nuances that speak to a new level of intimacy.
Cooper’s soulful interpretation of “Free Fallin’” will have you hitting replay over and over. He turns the song into an homage to Petty without attempting to mimic the legendary rocker, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 2017.
Cooper doesn’t even attempt to stretch far outside his deep range — he raises it a hardly noticeable octave or two — to imitate those high “freeeee, free fallin’” notes that were a trademark of Petty’s song.
Cooper said he is not planning any record release gigs anytime soon, although he has tiptoed back into live performances in recent weeks. He played a gig in late May at St. Philip’s Plaza, which has a socially distanced stage in the courtyard, and headlined a Whiskey Roads reopening party June 11 with about 200 people in the Marana country club/restaurant.
“It was the first time the band aIl had played together since the end of February, beginning of March,” said Cooper, 37, who celebrates his 10th year as a full-time musician in August.
While many musicians have been sidelined throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Cooper has continued with regular online concerts since mid-March, when Gov. Doug Ducey shut the state down in response to the health crisis. He split the tips from his popular “Carryout Concert Series” — online acoustic concerts he performed from the empty dining rooms of restaurants and bars where he has been a regular over the years — with restaurant and bar employees.
“Little Flower Sessions” drops on all major music streaming platforms Friday including Apple Music (music.apple.com).
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com. On Twitter @Starburch
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