West Coast Diaries Volume 2 – Charlie Peacock

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The other night my wife and I had the opportunity to see Charlie Peacock in concert.  The Art*Music*Justice tour, featuring Sarah Groves, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Brandon Heath and Charlie, had an off day in Kansas City.  So Charlie set up a house show with just him and his piano in the upstairs art gallery of the world’s most perfect Christian bookstore, Signs of Life, in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.  (No kidding.  Not a Scripture mint to be found, but huge sections on art, history, classics and local writers.  There’s one wall devoted to the puritans, and another to Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor and the like.  Dangerous.)

peacock-west-coast-diaries-volume-2.jpgNow you need to know for those formative years bridging high school and college, Charlie provided the soundtrack for my life.  So there’s my bias.  There was one record in particular which made me want to write, sing and play guitar.  In fact, it planted in me a desire to make art and live artistically during that window of life when I was considering, in many ways for the first time, what I wanted to do and become.

That record was West Coast Diaries, Volume 2.  There are three volumes total—each pretty different from the others, all very solid.  But Volume 2 has a timeless quality that keeps me coming back even 18 years later.  Charlie just recently remastered and reissued this record, and if you have not added this disc to your library, you might want to.  It’s good.  Real good.

Charlie has long been one of Nashville’s premiere producers and song-writers.  He’s a songwriter’s song writer, a producer’s producer.  His studio records are rich, thoughtful, well-made works of art.  More than that, he is a man who has generously invested much of his ability and influence in developing young artists—mentoring them to be thinking people, constantly honing not just their craft, but their minds, their creative process and their devotion to Christ too.

While Charlie continues to produce excellent art and artists, I must talk about West Coast Diaries Volume 2, at least to some degree, in the past tense because what it captures is something we had for a while, but will never have again—the Charlie Peacock Acoustic Trio, consisting of Charlie, Jimmy A on guitar and the late Vince Ebo singing back-up.  Jimmy was an artistically perfect fit, flowing effortlessly in and out of Charlie’s improvisational manner.  And Vince added an atmospheric beauty with his vocal style and range.  His talent remains so utterly distinct that I have never heard anything even close to the way that man used his voice as an instrument.  I miss him.  I look forward to hearing him sing again.

Volume 2 is elegant, simple, sparse and in a category by itself.  It is short, only 8 tracks.  And basic, just vocals with guitar on six tracks, piano on the other two.  But what is captured in those basic elements over that brief span of time is something that was and remains captivatingly inspired.  If you know the record, you know what I’m talking about.

To see this trio live was special.  They had a way of creating great moments where the whole room was swept up in a syncopated flow that left me awestruck not just by the performers and their skill, but by music in general.  It wasn’t just that you had a talented songwriter in an intimate format.  It wasn’t even that you had three gifted musicians all performing on the same record.  What makes this record one I keep coming back to over all these years comes from how the three of them fit together as one and somehow managed to capture it on tape—which seems almost impossible to do.  They played off each other without ever missing a beat.  They were seamless.  They were beautiful together.

West Coast Diaries, Volume 2 is the only studio record the Charlie Peacock Acoustic Trio left us, and I think it very faithfully delivers even now the rarified air they hovered in as a group.  It is a snapshot of an ensemble we will never see again, not as it was.  And to my ears, the remastered version has an even livelier feel than the original, which stands just fine on its own.

(If you have the old version, the remastered one has an extended version of Down in the Lowlands– an additional 60 seconds of Charlie and Vince riffing.  There is also a live recording of the trio on iTunes from a show in the Netherlands.)

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


16 Comments

  1. DrewSmusic

    Thanks for highlighting this classic recording. I’m glad this has been re-released and digitally available. I got all 3 volumes when they came out, and I was very new to “Christian” music. #2 was the one I kept in my car’s cassette deck. By the way, I still drive a car with a cassette deck. I think of it was cultivating humility.

  2. Christopher Hopper

    Russ,

    Thanks for the reminiscing post. I’m not familiar with these works so I’ll have to investigate. I am, however, very familiar with some of Charlie’s recent interviews on the state of CCM and the future of Christians in music (not Christian music). They have been quite inspiring, to say the least…really strumming my strings as of late.

    CH

  3. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Many years ago, I bought Charlie’s book At the Crossroads, An Insider’s Look at the Past, Present, and Future of Contemporary Christian Music. Though Charlie wrote the book about mainstream CCM, he raises relevant issues that apply to indie artists also. I recommend it. Thanks for the review, Russ.

    And Drew, The Rabbit Room has already received three phone calls from historical museums, wondering if you might be willing to donate your relic. 🙂 Just kidding. I have one too. Haven’t used it in awhile, but I have one.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    You probably have digital cassettes to play in it packed away somewhere 🙂

    Russ,

    Thanks for the recommendation and for highlighting the bookstore. I’m going to forward the link on to proprietor of our church bookstore for inspiration. In looking at what they’ve done here, it would be great to have a place like this in our area — if not in our church.

  5. Christopher Hopper

    Tony: here-here on the book store recommendation. I hadn’t thought of that, and it’s desperately needed up here in NY; scripture mints and Christian nick-knacks might actually be the death of book stores as we know them if something isn’t done fast!

    CH

  6. Tony Scialdone

    I respect Charlie Peacock a great deal. Call me unschooled in the ways of art, but I couldn’t stand the Diaries when they came out. I recognized his brilliance, but couldn’t enjoy them.

    After he hooked up with Brown Bannister for “The Secret of Time”, I found that Charlie Peacock had become one of my favorite artists. Thanks for bringing him to mind!

  7. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Thanks Russ,

    West Coast Diaries STILL gets played on a regular basis in the Gray household. It is one of our all time favorite records.

    And you’re right, the idea of an acoustic trio is nothing new or rare, but this record is set apart in some way.

  8. Daniel

    Thanks for the post Russ. After reading this I attended the AMJ tour here in Nashville where I bought a copy of the album. It’s been playing almost non-stop sense, great stuff!

  9. Drew

    No kidding . . . the absolute best concert I have ever been to was just Charlie, Vince, and Jimmy singing songs, taking audience requests, and quite obviously enjoying the evening as much as those of us in the little club where we saw them. Charlie had not yet been signed by Sparrow, and cassettes of his West Coast Diaries were eagerly snapped up by fans. I nearly wore out my copy of West Coast Diaries Vol. 2, and was happy when Sparrow finally released it on CD.

    It’s been probably 20 years, and it’s still my favorite concert experience ever.

    My neighbor worked at Sparrow a few years after that, had befriended Vince, and was absolutely crushed when he got the news. I still don’t think he’s gotten over it.

  10. Steve Cuss

    I LOVED West Coast Diaries. “No Place Closer to Heaven” was our wedding song and remains one of the few sapless Christian love songs. Vince Ebo – a beautiful life tragically cut short.

    I recall a line from Twila Paris’ “Cry for the Desert” album saying thanks to Charlie Peacock for productions. “A lesser man would have saved his ideas for his own next project.”

    Yes, I’m man enough to admit that I like Twila Paris Music.

    Yes, “Cry for the Desert” is funny when you change it to “Cry for the Dessert.”

    But I digress….

    Its been fun to find some of CP’s lesser known productions. He produced Al Green on a CCM Christmas track, “The First Noel” that really smoked and had Vince Ebo wailing in the background while Al Green giggled. CP also re recorded “In the Light” with Keaggy and Bela Fleck for a stunning acoustic jam session.

    CP’s “Secret of Time” was a great album but my favorite of his albums, in fact one of my favorite ever albums was CP’s “Everything that is on my mind.” Wow, what a rock record.

    anyway, thanks for writing memories of WCD volume 2 – a stunning stripped down soul and rock fest!

    Steve

  11. Roger Webb

    I can say that WCD #2 is my favorite of Charlie’s early (relatively) works, but my favorite overall is strangeLanguage. He adds a lot of ambient textures and thought into that record. Love life is also good too.

  12. Roger Webb

    I had the good fortune of seeing Charlie in Oklahoma City in 1992, with Out of the Grey opening. One of the best concerts I have ever attended. What I loved about him was the way he was so approachable after the concert. Very humble about his efforts, thanking us for coming and supporting him. I can’t remember if Vince was with him at the show. Sorry for the double post, just had a memory to share.
    I heard that he is in seminary in St. Louis…wow, cool pastor Charlie.

  13. Staci Frenes

    Thanks for this reminder of such a great musical chapter in the book of Charlie Peacock! It’s rare to hear that kind of fluid improvisation applied to pop–I love both Volumes I and II.

    I opened for a show that Charlie/Vince/Jimmy A did in San Francisco way back when, and was star struck the whole night.

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