This blog post from December 2016, titled “Hank Williams hasn’t answered yet,” might tell you as much as you need to know about the Coals, or at least about insightful frontman Jason Mandell: “Leonard Cohen died last week, a couple days after Donald Trump was elected president. ‘Tranquility is of no poetic use,’ said the poet Robert Graves.”

Possessed of a sharp, literate wit, Mandell’s an artist for whom words are lyrical currency, each one thoughtfully measured with consideration for how it balances those that follow. He organized a tribute to Cohen in the months after his death, with performances by a cluster of artists from LA’s roots community; for anyone who’s been listening to his songs through the band’s various iterations, it’s no surprise that the Coals’ recently released album, “Through Nighttime’s Purple Skies,” features his own self-described attempt at composing a Cohen song. “Godless” nestles in the precise middle of “Through Nighttime’s Purple Skies” like a musky temptress who only emerges after sunset, shimmering with eerie melody and insight:

“We’re godless, babe, we make idols of ourselves/ We’re godless, babe, as the bottom of a well/ Our days are numbered our fears are few/ It’s an inviting point of view/ … We’re thieves, my friends, we just take what we desire/ We’re thieves, my friends, like Prometheus with fire/ We’ve got a system we know the score/ You be the master I’ll be the whore”

Most of the songs on the album have been part of the Coals’ set lists for some time. It opens with the pedal steel-gilded “I Wanted a Lover, I Needed a Friend” and closes with the equally dreamy and knowing “All I Want is You.” In between, “Painted Rose” celebrates the joys of sad songs and perverse thrills of lonesome night rides, and the chugging guitars, swelling organ and pedal steel riffs of the Tom Petty-esque “Better Days” cheerily conjure escapist visions of wheeling down country back roads on a Sunday afternoon: “We’ve had better days, my friend/ We’ll have better days again/ By the time this circus ends/ We’ll have better days.”

As anthems go, it’s humble, but comforting. In times when “tranquility is of no poetic use,” comfort will do. n


The Coals return to the Love Song Bar, 450 S. Main St., downtown LA, at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 8; free admission. Info: (213) 284-5728. thecoalsmusic.com, spacelandpresents.com/events/the-love-song/