Citizen Cope (photo courtesy of Shore Fire, PR)
Heroin And Helicopters
RainWater Recordings/Thirty Tigers
Clarence Greenwood, who records as Citizen Cope, has been on the quiet side since the release of 2012's One Lovely Day, but after a hiatus, he's back. Cope's new album, Heroin and Helicopters, offers guidance, hope, and inspiration for these polarizing and disheartening times. “I think we’re all on a mission to find some inner peace,” he reflects in his website bio. “We’re all going towards this collective consciousness, and even though it’s dark right now, I believe we’re going to reach that place together. Peace and harmony and understanding, that’s how you combat the darkness, and that’s what this record is all about.”
As for the nearly seven-year gap between albums, Cope had a good reason: he became a father in 2011 and wanted to remain at home to raise his daughter. During this period, he also reconnected with his own estranged biological father, a troubled man who could be physically abusive and ultimately abandoned his family. As his ailing parent neared death, Cope was able to make peace with him and attain some much needed closure.
That emotional upheaval, both personal and otherwise, made Cope realize he had something to say and he needed to return to the studio. His decision couldn’t have come at a better time. Heroin and Helicopters gets its title from some advice that Carlos Santana gave Cope some years back, advising him to “stay away from the two H's — heroin and helicopters." As Santana told Cope, both helicopters and opioids have killed their share of musicians, offering quick fixes with potentially fatal results.
Heroin and Helicopters addresses the human condition, raising questions, and proposing answers. Cope avoids being too specific about any one person or situation, delivering his message with his trademark acoustic folk, soul, and hip hop. It’s easy to get lost within the good vibes and robust grooves, but never forget that Cope has something to say. “I don’t want to struggle, I just want to love you," sings Cope on the easygoing but sociopolitically aware "Hours on End." The motivations of those in power are questioned on “The River” while the midtempo saunter of “Sally Walks” tackles addiction, but without being specific on who or what "Sally" might be.
Heroin and Helicopters is bookended by two tumultuous, but instrumentally sparse tracks: the spoken word invocation of “Duck Confit” and the bare “Forbidden.”
Cope wrote all of the new songs and produced, or co-produced, the entire album, working in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Among those contributing to Heroin And Helicopters is Rare Essence bassist Michael "Funky Ned" Neal, keyboardist James Poyser of the Roots, and Abe Laboriel, Jr., who is also Paul McCartney’s longtime drummer.
Seven years away didn't dissipate the power of Cope's lyrics or music: Heroin and Helicopters is a triumphant return to form for the Memphis-born songwriter, a frequent guest at WFUV over the years. (He's joined the lineup of FUV's High Line Bash on May 3 too). He delivers honest and passionate messages dealing with life’s realities and remains a voice of conscience, reason, empathy, and solace.
"There's so much trouble in the world, surrounded by miracles," observes Cope on the single "Justice," one of the earliest releases from this new album. It's Cope's dogged pursuit of those miracles on Heroin and Helicopters that makes his re-emergence in 2019 so very welcome.
Listen to a brand new FUV Live concert with Citizen Cope, recorded at Rockwood Music Hall, on 90.7FM and streaming on WFUV.org this Friday, March 8, on Rita Houston's "The Whole Wide World," which airs 6-9 p.m., EST. The Citizen Cope concert will be in the 8 p.m. hour.