Artist: Kenneth Paul Cooper
Album: This Lover’s Dance
Genre: Easy Listening, Adult Alternative
Sounds Like: Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra
Best Songs: Wish I Didn’t Miss Her, The Bittersweet Taste of Desire
Strengths: Overall smooth, warm feeling to the album, very mellow mood
Kenneth Paul Cooper is a Canadian singer/songwriter from the British Columbia area that draws his principle musical influence from early 60’s pop/soul music. A vocalist and guitarist, he performs regularly at coffee houses, clubs, and other small venues around Canada, and has also performed abroad in Europe. He is the host of a live music venue in British Columbia known as “Ken Cooper and Friends” that plays once a week. Cooper’s debut solo album, titled “This Lover’s Dance” was released late last year and features eleven original songs performed with the help of a session band.
Cooper describes his music as “songs that engage the mind and relax the soul”. For the most part in this respect, the album holds true to this premise. Everything about “This Lover’s Dance” is very smooth, warm, and sincere. The session band that played on this album sounds great tone-wise, and the inclusion of subtle, disciplined horns and trumpets throughout the record gave a lot of these songs a polished and mature nature that is reminiscent of high quality lounge music or smooth jazz. “This Lover’s Dance” is definitely the epitome of an “easy listening” album, at least with respect to its overall style and carefully selected tonal qualities. I don’t think Cooper ever went off the neck pickup the entire album, and stuck primarily with a base clean tone that had a lot of warmth, yet still kept enough shine to fit well over rustic Hammond organs and fat bass. Everything from the guitars, to the vocals, to the drums, to all the supplementary instruments were mixed simply and clearly. In terms of the songs themselves, the two standouts are “Wish I Didn’t Miss Her” and “The Bittersweet Taste of Desire”. All the songs on this album are very heartfelt, contemplative, and usually have a hint of melancholy, but Cooper pulls off his musical tendencies the best with these two. “Wish I Didn’t Miss Her” does a decent job of creating a meaningful, warm hearted narrative about love lost, and there are sections throughout the tune where Cooper’s voice kicks into a higher gear, demonstrating positive musical capabilities. Everything about “The Bittersweet Taste of Desire” suggests it belongs on a Roy Orbison record, even the name of the tune sounds like something Orbison would write. It has the same kind of grand opulence, instrumentation, and melancholy of Orbison tunes, and considering how there are moments in this record where Cooper’s voice sounds a little bit like Orbison’s (particularly in the lower registers), “The Bittersweet Taste of Desire” stands as a pleasant ode to the days of elaborate pop singles about lost love and broken hearts. “This Lover’s Dance” is smooth, sincere, and serves almost as a throwback to some of the greatest love songs written in the early sixties.
There are a couple of issues with this record. First off, one of the most obvious things listeners will notice is that Cooper’s voice is sub-par at best. He almost sounds flat in a lot of the tracks, doesn’t have a lot of depth, limited range, and overall gives a vocal performance that just isn’t that exciting or stimulating most of the time. Cooper croons quietly through most of the songs, sort of like how Frank Sinatra sounded toward the end of his career; but Cooper’s voice is lacking, limited, and ultimately just not that great. Secondly, the instrumentation: apart from the overall warm and inviting tone of this album, the actual arrangements and composition of these songs is stale. “This Lover’s Dance” basically sounds like the same two or three songs written over and over again eleven times. The music is almost overly sparing, almost too subtle, and seems to lack passion on more than a few songs. A typical motif is Cooper plucking a series of seven and nine chords over a twittering Hammond organ and a bass that seems to sound a little bit fuzzy and heavy on the lower notes. Most of these songs seem to be at about the same tempo, have the same lyrical themes, use the same instrumental elements, and go on for about a minute longer than needed. There was no guitar solo on the entire album. Of course, it is understandable that this music is easy listening, but there is a guitar solo right for every kind of music. The point is that the music seemed to lack passion and emotion despite the fact that the lyrics tended to focus almost solely on these very subjects. Honestly, I was pretty bored through most of this album. I think part of the reason why (aside from the occasional lackluster performances of Cooper and the band) the album may be boring to some listeners is purely because of the nature of the mix. As was stated before, the mix is, at heart, good. It is warm, simple and inviting, which is how easy listening albums should sound. However, basic recording gets stale fast, especially if eleven songs all have that same sound. Maybe if there was some more reverb, echo effects, synths, even perhaps an orchestra-like string section to some of these tracks, things would sound a lot more interesting.
Kenneth Paul Cooper is an honest, good hearted musician that aims to make music that is mature, romantic, and meaningful. “This Lover’s Dance” is an album that doesn’t deserve harsh scrutiny, because it never insists upon itself. Cooper isn’t the best vocalist, and it is true that a lot more could have been done with these compositions, but there is without a doubt some really beautiful moments within these eleven tracks that made this work worthwhile. If your a fan of easy listening artists, Kenneth Paul Cooper’s music might interest you. “This Lover’s Dance” may not be the best collection out there, but it certainly has its own unique style and charm.