With her fourth album Welder, Elizabeth Cook renews her membership in the take-no-prisoners sisterhood of Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, and Dolly Parton (with whom Cook is often compared).
Fitted with a rootsy sound that's still polished enough for country radio -- even if it doesn't stand a chance of being played there -- the record is a more than worthy successor to 2007's Balls. In case you're wondering, that's a reference to the track "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman." In Cook's case, it does.
Under the Radar, But Right on Target
If there were any justice, Elizabeth Cook would be one of country's top-selling female artists. Her voice is high and wild -- her songs are full of wisdom and wise-ass humor. She's not too shabby on the eyes either. But despite a dedicated fan base, and a trio of albums under her name, Cook's invigorating music has barely registered with mainstream country listeners.
Will Welder change all that? Probably not, but it should. The album opener, "All the Time," is an irresistible stew of writhing fiddles, helium vocals, and Appalachia melodies. The theme is romantic infatuation and the other voice on the track is longtime collaborator Tim Carroll; he happens to be married to Cook, and probably knows something about the subject.
A Stylistic Chameleon
From there the album takes the first of several stylistic left turns, proving that Cook can sing nearly any kind of song. While one might imagine "All of the Time" coming through the fog-shrouded trees of a West Virginia hilltop, "El Camino" would more likely be overhead thudding from a low-rider in a strip mall. With throwaway lines about mullets, Quaaludes, and Boogie Nights, it's one of the better songs about driving around with a sketchy dude in his crappy car in the '70s.
Cook's shape-shifting talents continue with "Not California," even if it's not to particularly good effect: you've heard this song before, many times. It's a sentimental ballad about passionate people being passionate. Despondent vocals shift predictably into emotional overdrive at the chorus. "And it's not true/And it's not fair/And it's not new." You're right, and no it isn't. Not surprisingly, "Not California" is one of the few songs on the album that Cook didn't write.
Poignant Songs Touched by Humor
More typical of Cook, if there's such a thing, are the tunes "Heroin Addicted Sister" and "Mama's Funeral." In the first she finds humor in a sibling's drug addiction without dampening the human tragedy. In the second, what might be an overwrought country eulogy is instead a poignant portrait of a moment frozen in time. Credit that to Cook's knack for picking out a few images that paint the whole scene: brothers drinking beer by the barn, mourners trying to find something worthwhile to say, the convenience store that "stayed open late/Sold out of all their cups and papers plates/To the strangers gathered up on the hill."
If that's a little too heavy for you, the mood lightens considerably with the rollicking self-help of "Yes to Booty." As in, "When you say yes to beer/You say no to booty." The fine Dwight Yoakam duet "I'll Never Know" helps close out the record.
Incidentally, Don Was produced Welder (the title is a reference to the Cook's father's profession). It's another superb entry for the producer in the 2000s, on top of excellent work on Kris Kristofferson's Closer to the Bone and Todd Snider's The Excitement Plan.
Best Songs on Welder
- "All the Time"
- "Mama's Funeral"
- "Yes to Booty"
- "Heroin Addicted Sister"