Elizabeth Cook "Welder" (Proper Records, 2010)
More than any of those self-consciously subversive "alt-country" acts, Elizabeth Cook represents the true antithesis to the Nashville establishment. For despite suffering rejection at its hands - her previous album, 'Balls', fell on stony ground in no small part due to its lyrical forthrightness - Cook continues to explore the sound of classic country radio and does so with far more conviction than any of the airbrushed, Nashville-approved artists who dominate those airwaves, with a respect for tradition which rarely risks teetering over the edge into pastiche.
Sometimes this will be problematic for those coming to Americana from an "alternative" background, as Cook can occasionally stray too close to the clichés which give country music a bad name with the general public. On a ballad such as 'Girlfriend Tonight', the lyrical content and her honeyed vocals conspire to invoke a sentimentality which many prove too rich for some. This situation is not helped by the production of Don Was, who ladles on the syrup with cloying washes of organ, pedal steel and strings.
However, these mawkish moments are only sporadic and elsewhere Cook proves that she can communicate genuine pathos, as on the stark and affecting 'Mama's Funeral' or 'Heroin Addict Sister', a composition that can stand next to anything by Mary Gauthier or Lucinda Williams. Even on songs such as these, her lyrical insight tends to be accompanied that acclaimed acerbic edge, albeit one which finds its fullest expression on jauntier outings such as 'Rock n' Roll Man' and 'El Camino'. The latter is an especial highlight, the put-downs coming thick and fast, delivered in a coquettish and conversational style over a scratchy guitar riff.
Elsewhere, the Appalachian opener 'All the Time' or the honky-tonk outings, 'Snake In My Bed' and 'I'll Never Know', ensure the balance of the album is firmly weighted towards more gutsy material, making it easier to overlook those occasional moments of saccharinity. A lack of subtlety in the other direction is occasionally evident, particularly on the rather crass 'Yes to Booty', but none of these instances of immoderation are sufficient to undermine Cook's overall appeal.
Date review added: Monday, May 31, 2010
Reviewer: Kai Roberts
Related web link: Artist website