On Elizabeth Cook's last album, Balls, she sang "Sometimes it takes balls/to be a woman" — the record's only good joke — and the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," the record's only earworm melody, and it's five years older than she is. Welder is the sound of all her vaunted potential surfacing, powerful limbs stirring in the earth. I almost gave up on her after Balls. I'm glad I didn't.
"All the Time" splices Appalachia to (mild) psychedelia with arcane noises through its hook, although the wander-or-wed lyrics hew to a trad country line. The tasteless male in "El Camino" and the besotted one in "Yes To Booty" share a rundown lineage, although Cook shakes her head laughing at the former ("Dude musta put a Quaalude in my beer") and saves her sage advice for the second ("When you say yes to beer, you say no to booty"). Maybe she's gone from a passive woman to an active one. Maybe like many people she doesn't know exactly why she does things, with or without saying yes to beer.
Or maybe (like Lou Reed) she's just different people for different songs. She surely never served as a "Blackland Farmer," but she manifests one in confident, simple strokes. I almost feel bad grading this stuff against most of what counts as country on today's radio stations. It's that far ahead of the pack. It summons people and lives, not thin jokes, sloshed testimonies, and I'm-in-love-with-my-truck smoke-blowing. Lo, a Dolly Parton for our times.
Album: Welder (2010)
Artist: Elizabeth Cook
Label: Thirty One Tigers
Songs: (1) All the Time (2) El Camino (3) Not California (4) Heroin Addict Sister (5) Yes to Booty (6) Blackland Farmer (7) Girlfriend Tonite (8) Rock N Roll Man (9) Mama's Funeral (10) I'm Beginning to Forget (11) Snake in the Bed (12) Follow You Like Smoke (13) I'll Never Know (14) Til Then