Rumors of the Truth (Star Play Records)
I was expecting Danny Epps' Rumors of the Truth to be a lot more average than it is. Not often does a singer-songwriter album by a relative unknown give such a complete impression of the artist in question. But there are reasons I should not have been surprised.
Epps has been an East Texas rumor for quite some time. The late Mickey Newbury wrote the liner notes for Epps' eponymous debut album of 1972 and described him as "from the same mold as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt, Dennis Linde and Gene Thomas." Now, most of these guys weren't that well known to the average listener at the time, but insiders certainly knew who they were and what Newbury was trying to say. (Willie was a good three or more years from becoming a household name and Townes was still carving out his legend on the folk circuit. Kris had fully arrived but was beginning to fix his sights on Hollywood. Dennis was setting the charts on fire with "Burnin' Love" and, more recently, "Goodbye, Earl" for the Dixie Chicks, while Gene was already the tragically under-recorded well-kept secret he remains today.) The album was a pretty good effort in the "confessional" mode of the time, but, except for some small-label product that didn't get wide distribution, we never heard from him again. Until now.
Rumors of the Truth is a breath of fresh air in every sense of the word. The budding talent to which Newbury was referring in 1972 is in full bloom here. The sense of immediacy that characterized that first album hasn't been lost, but Epps' mastery of songwriting in its various styles is quite evident.
The CD starts out with "The Beast," Epps' first-hand Vietnam memoir. It is stark in its description of lives lost, but mostly wonders about the meaning of modern-day heroism and whether a former soldier's regular visits from "the beast" may be too much of a price to pay. The song is quite "heavy" for an introductory song, but works well as a backdrop for what follows.
"Stoned Alone Blues" is just what the title suggests, with a fiddle that seems to shed real tears, complements of Steve Snoe. In "Home Is Only a Dream," we find a traveling worker trying to "connect" in a strange town bar and the sense of rootlessness that seems to come with the territory. ("When my time is over, I'll end up owing for the dirt they throw on my grave.") "I Need to Go Crazy" tells what happens when the intensity of hard manual labor meets an unrelenting sun. At first, the story's teller is on the job "praying for a beer and a breeze," before trying to lose himself in the night and, eventually, the weekend.
Epps describes "Desperate Moves" as "a wild ride through the crazy `70's" and it is surely that, while also a glimpse into the potential attraction of both controlled substances and the lost highway and the manner in which both can leave one wanting. But it is a woman that proves to be an even greater nemesis in "I Danced on the Moon." Epps explores a similar theme earlier on the CD in the cavalier "I Need a Bad Woman Bad," but he was ever in control in that scripted scenario. In "I Danced on the Moon," he finds his "bad woman" and surrenders pride, self-respect, everything to one who is "just passing through." ("Shamelessly I'd follow her and do things that in others I despise.")
In "Low Down Friends," Epps celebrates those who are still with us when the fair weather is gone. ("Nothin' is working and no one is pleased. Some say I'm hopeless, they've washed their hands clean. Flat on my back, I've got no place to lean except on low down friends.") The CD closes with "It's Over," the ruminations of an aging cowboy. ("Now it's over. The highways cut the range I used to ride. Now I'm older, standing closer to the fire every night.")
In Rumors of the Truth, Danny Epps proves Mickey Newbury once again right. It was Newbury, after all, who first championed Kristofferson, insisting that friend Roger Miller listen to an unlikely future classic called "Me and Bobby McGee." Newbury also brought Townes Van Zandt for the first time to Nashville (in the trunk of a car, the story goes), contributing the liner notes to the latter's first album. In Rumors of the Truth, we see the unexpected fruits of a prediction made over thirty years ago. Let's hope Epps continues to make Newbury proud.