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John Coinman: Loss and Found

Coinman explores some of the U.S.’s darker moments on ‘Already Are’

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It’s not that Tucsonan John Coinman hasn’t been making music since his last release, 2005’s Songs Of The Modern West. But soon afterward, he got a call from an old friend, and almost 10 years of full-time songwriting, recording and touring ensued.

The friend was actor Kevin Costner, for whom Coinman served as music director of the former’s multi-academy-award-winning Dances With Wolves. According to Costner’s website, around 10 years ago he began looking for a more personal interaction with his audience. He asked Coinman to gather a band. “It would be real, full of mistakes and without apology. But most of all there would be the chance to have some fun.”

Coinman’s first call was to long-time collaborator and bassist Blair Forward, a member of Costner’s own first band. Minutes later, he tapped former Tucsonan Teddy Morgan, now a Nashville songwriter and producer. Morgan had distinguished himself as a blues guitar prodigy under the venerable Clifford Antone, owner of Antone’s Blues Club in Austin, TX. Revered music and social critic Greil Marcus said of Morgan that he would “have Hank Williams and Kurt Cobain high-fiving if they weren’t so pissed they didn’t see this coming.”

Additional members are drummer Larry Cobb, pedal steel player and early Giant Sand member Neil Harry and flat-picking champion guitar player Peter McLaughlin. All will join Coinman at Club Congress on Friday, May 22 as headliners for the Rhythm & Roots series.

Perhaps more important than his own expert musicianship, Coinman’s songs share insights into fundamental human nature and unblinkingly relate the pain he’s seen in victims of circumstance. The emotional core of his new release Already Are lies in three back-to-back tracks. “Oklahoma City” recalls the event many of us remember as the first terrorist attack in the U.S. “This year is the 20th anniversary of the bombing,” Coinman says, “and now that sort of thing is happening all over the world all the time.” He recalls the event through the eyes of a victim’s mother he met years later at the site. “She goes down there every day.”

In “Five Minutes From America,” a refugee from Hurricane Katrina, ten years ago, is headed toward Houston, full of despair. “You know 250,000 refugees from Katrina wound up in Houston,” Coinman said. The song was inspired, he said, by a tour the band made of the Louisiana Superdome.

“The Angels Came Down,” a heart-tugging narrative about angels gathering the dead from centuries of killing fields, has taken on a life of its own. “That song has been adopted by the Gold Star Mothers,” Coinman says. “That is a club you never want to belong to.” It’s an organization of mothers who have lost children in battle. “A lot of veterans and other organizations have taken comfort from it because it doesn’t have a political message. It may be the only song about war that’s not political.”

In “That’s What You Do For Fame,” Coinman pens his autobiography in rich irony for knowing chuckles but most of the other songs are pop rock ballads to letting go, as in sending children or friends on their way into the world with the heartfelt words of encouragement. They would all make awesome breakup tunes but Coinman says, “My wife and I just celebrated our 30th anniversary yesterday, so I haven’t broken up with anybody for 30 years.”

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