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Cooder Graw

Three-to-OnE – 2000 (Self-released)

Reviewed by Tom Geddie

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CDs by Cooder Graw

Cooder Graw got its start as a cover band in Amarillo, Texas, and is rapidly building a regional fan base with its upbeat country-that-rocks performances and attitude, fronted by Matt Martindale. Yes, "Cooder Graw" is Texan for the French expression "coup de grace," a deathblow delivered to end the misery of a mortally wounded opponent.

Although the band still does some covers in its live shows, that label no longer applies. Martindale, an assistant district attorney, wrote all the songs (with additional credit to the band on 8 of the 12). He writes short stories in songs mostly about outlaws of one kind or another or desperate-love songs about people who seldom have a real chance. He's got a way with words that extends far beyond the usual legal obfuscation, and the band - electric guitarist Kelly Turner, drummer Joe Ammons, pedal steel guitarist Jimmy Whisenhunt, and bassist Paul Baker and Martindale - is tight and talented.

The performances? Judge Cooder Graw's shows for yourself, with songs like "(she's a bottle-breakin', breath-takin', gear-jammin', door-slammin') Dirty Little Hometown Girl," or "My Give a Damn is Broken" or "State Line," which notes that somebody put too much water on a bad seed. A few of the songs are slower and more soulful, but this album's emphasis remains on the harder beat.

Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel back up the band on "My Give a Damn is Broken," and Kelly Willis adds a nice duet on the gentle "West Texas Wind."