ROUTES & BRANCHES
featuring the very best of americana, alt.country and roots music
June 3, 2018
Scott Foley, purveyor of dust
Phil Cook's new solo record sounds like community. Set the proverbial needle down anywhere on People Are My Drug, and you'll hear a room full of friends, a porch crowded with song. Pieces that begin focused on Cook's voice end up finding him surrounded by a gospel chorus and ecstatic, extended instrumental jamming. It's like speaking in tongues, but musically.
Cook has plied his itinerant instrumentalist trade extensively, as a member of DeYarmond Edison, Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger. He's also served alongside acts like Blind Boys of Alabama, Amy Ray, Charlie Parr and more. His 2015 CD, Southland Mission was a vibrant solo introduction to Phil Cook: Jukebox of Southern Music.
A rich vein of joy shines throughout these new songs, mined from gospel as much as folk, steeped in blues and rock. "Steampowered Blues" opens People Are My Drug with a New Orleans-inspired shuffle, a spirited parade that ends up at church. Atop Cook's nimble piano we are swept up in a chorus of gospel voices proclaiming So tired of running even as the tempo increases.
Uplift is the byproduct of gospel music. It's also Phil Cook's seeming raison d'etre. Concert clips show him as a bandleader, a perpetually active generator of energy. "Deeper Kind" launches with a gently rewarding groove and a prayer: Lord grant us wings / Lord give us sky / And let us fly. Instruments add their voices to a call-and-response that builds and builds into a jubilant altar call.
Other pieces adapt a more free-flowing John Hartford vibe. "Now That I Know" is boosted by banjo and fiddle, swinging more liberally than your typical folk music. Produced by Phil's brother Brad Cook, the arrangements for People Are My Drug are bustling with joyful noise, instruments coloring to the edges and tagging all the white space. Even a profoundly personal tune like "Another Mother's Son" seems driven more by gratitude than by fear and anger. Cook regards the national epidemic of gun violence through the lens of fatherhood and family, testifying amidst a crowd of witnesses: No more silence / No more fathers / No more mothers / No more daughters / No more sons / Never anymore / No more bodies! It's a transcendent moment that will move hearts in concert, arms raised to the heavens.
Back to earth, the understated "Miles Away" serves as my favorite moment on the record. A duet with Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath that bears no come-to-Jesus rave-ups or extended instrumental jams, it's simply a good song. While her dayband tends towards more electronic beats, Meath has a gift for channeling the soul in a song. One would hope Cook might lure her into the studio for a more organic solo album ...
People Are My Drug generates such a positive groove, like a more extroverted expression of the Wood Brothers. Beyond the music, the sessions cement Phil Cook's reputation as a genuinely talented and good-natured force for gratitude and wonder. He is a gatherer of energy and a raiser of spirits. Musical community gathers around him.
- 16 Horsepower, "Clogger (live)" Live March 2001 (Alternative Tentacles, 08)
- Dead Tongues, "Clip Your Wings" Unsung Passage (Psychic Hotline, 18)
- Jayhawks, "Everybody Knows" Back Roads & Abandoned Motels (Sony, 18)
- Nicki Bluhm, "Battlechain Rose" To Rise You Gotta Fall (Compass, 18) D
- Brent Cowles, "The Fold" How to Be Okay Alone (Dine Alone, 18)
- Johnny Irion, "Salvage the Day" Driving Friend (Irion, 18)
- Ike Reilly, "Clean Blood Blues" Crooked Love (Rock Ridge, 18)
- Israel Nash, "Rolling On" Lifted (Desert Folklore, 18)
- Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Silverlake" Downey to Lubbock (YepRoc, 18)
- Neko Case, "Halls of Sarah" Hell-on (Anti, 18)
- American Aquarium, "Tough Folks" Things Change (New West, 18)
- Dillon Carmichael, "Hell on an Angel" Hell on an Angel (Riser House, 18)
- Joshua Hedley, "I Never (Shed a Tear)" Mr Jukebox (Third Man, 18)
- Shovels & Rope, "St Anne's Parade" Little Seeds (New West, 16)
- Jason Boland & the Stragglers, "I Don't Deserve You (w/Sunny Sweeney)" Hard Times are Relative (Proud Souls, 18)
- Juanita Stein, "Forgiver" Until the Lights Fade (Nude, 18)
- Ruen Brothers, "Walk Like a Man" All My Shades of Blue (Ramseur, 18)
- Lydia Loveless, "Really Wanna See You" Somewhere Else (Bloodshot, 14)
- T Hardy Morris, "Stage Names" Dude the Obscure (Normaltown, 18)
- Sons of Bill, "Sweeter Sadder Farther" Oh God Ma'am (Tone Tree, 18)
- Pat Reedy & Longtime Goners, "Bloodshot Heart" That's All There Is (Muddy Roots, 18)
- Kevin Gordon, "Great Southern" Down to the Well (Shanachie, 00)
- Dwight Yoakam, "Then Here Came Monday" single (Reprise, 18) D
- Jason Eady, "OK Whiskey" Daylight & Dark (Old Guitar, 14)
- Jeffrey Foucault, "War on the Radio" Blood Brothers (Tone Tree, 18)
- Lucero, "To My Dearest Wife" Among the Ghosts (Liberty + Lament, 18)
- Lori McKenna, "People Get Old" The Tree (CN, 18)
- Jesse Dayton, "Charlottesville" The Outsider (Blue Elan, 18) D
- JP Harris & Tough Choices, "Badly Bent" I'll Keep Calling (Cow Island, 12)
- Sharon Jones & Dap-Kings "Humble Me" 100 Days 100 Nights (Daptone, 07)