After the first snowstorm of the season hit the Capital Region on Monday, November 8, Elizabeth Cook warmed the hearts of predominately first-time patrons to The Linda with an impressive array of originals and choice covers, good-natured fun and candid banter.
Flanked by upright bassist Bones Hillman and her husband, versatile electric guitarist Tim Carroll, Cook and her acoustic opened with the first three songs from her ’07 album “Balls.” In “Times Are Tough in Rock and Roll”, Cook displayed the gifts that have made her one of the most talked about singer-songwriters in recent memory. A native of Florida, she sings like a hybrid of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, and writes songs that are vivid, wry and heartfelt – often in the same verse. She may not be a household name yet, but she can call the Grand Old Opry home, having played there over 300 times.
A quartet of songs from her recent album “Welder” followed, riveting the crowd. “Girlfriend Tonight” was a plaintive call for rekindling romance; “All the Time” melded a hook that was equal parts India and Appalachia; and the raucous “El Camino” dazzled with its account of an impressionable young woman falling in lust with someone who “wears shirts trippin’ on LSD,” only to wonder to herself, “If I wake up married, I’ll have to annul it/ Right now, my hands are in his mullet.” Yet the song that left everybody speechless was Cook’s sublime “Hillbilly Heroin Sister”, an account of unconditional love, sung in a voice that radiated with candor the struggle that a family faces with an addict. It is a song for our times.
Inspirations received their tribute with gusto. Cook’s “Dolly” examined the compromises foisted upon female country artists by record labels and marketing staffs. A rockin’ “Cash on the Barrelhead” (featuring some fine picking by Carroll and a thumping bass line by Hillman) was sent out to an ailing Charlie Louvin. A pair of songs addressed the recent death of Joyce Cook, the mother who had inspired in her young daughter a deep love of music: “Mama’s Funeral” captured the complex nature of loss without being maudlin, while a rendition of her mother’s torch song “I’m Beginning to Forget You” waltzed and hugged the heart.
Yet this would not be an Elizabeth Cook show without some dancing. Toting clogs, she tore up the stage to her husband’s mighty fine train song “TG-V”, and wryly said afterwards that such moments constitute her “cardio workout” while being on the road. “Rock and Roll Man” from “Welder” had folks chair-dancing to a riff that Marc Bolan would have envied, while the title track to “Balls” had the women hooting to Elizabeth’s take on what it means to be 21st century woman fighting against chauvinism and stereotypes.
As an encore, Cook and company delivered a beguiling take on the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning,” a song that seemed like it was written by Lou Reed for Cook and not Nico. Look forward to a radio broadcast of this concert on WAMC-FM this winter, and hear what all the buzz is about. Cook is the real deal.
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk