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.)
Now 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 is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).