Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Elizabeth Cook

  • Balls [31 Tigers, 2007] ***
  • Welder [31 Tigers, 2010] A
  • Exodus of Venus [Agent Love/Thirty Tigers, 2016] A
  • Aftermath [Agent Love/Thirty Tigers, 2020] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Balls [31 Tigers, 2007]
Accounting B.A. accounted a Loretta Lynn for our time by no less an assessor than Nanci Griffith and not without reason! ("Sunday Morning," "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman"). ***

Welder [31 Tigers, 2010]
First you tell me the fourth album by a thick-drawling Opry regular from rural Florida assembles 13 pieces of harmonically received verse-chorus-verse, and then I'll tell you they pack more aesthetic power and sophistication than any college-educated art damagee has scared up in a while. Although it helps that she's a college-educated art damagee herself, it helps even more that her bootlegger-turned-welder dad was in a band with her mom. Cook has been perfecting her craft long enough to recognize that her mama's funeral and her heroin addict sister are the stuff of art--those are both exact titles, but capitals and quotation marks would reduce them to mere songs rather than experiences the non-irony-damaged can share. And she's been living her life long enough that she won't let her suffering, to call it by its rightful name, dampen her appetite for good times. Inspirational Verse: "And if I wake up married I'll have to annul it/Right now my hands are in his mullet." A

Exodus of Venus [Agent Love/Thirty Tigers, 2016]
In and around 2010's Welder, which finally got this 37-year-old Nashville pro some national cred, her marriage ended, her mother died, her father died, a brother died, her former mother- and father-in-law died, and her family farm went thataway. So why shouldn't this 2016 album be a substance abuse album? Begins with a title track in which sex is a drug and a damn good one: "Let's part the waters, let's walk the seas/Let's laugh in the face of modern disease" (and "Fall to pieces on some other day"). It closes by honoring a murdered Nashville 12-year-old who's already a cold case even though "five sex offenders live on this street." In between it's mostly drugs and entirely vivid and sardonic. I recommend every song but find myself recalling the on-the-road diptych "Broke Down in London on the M25": "I can drink myself dry/Long as I can stay alive." And then there's "Methadone Blues": "Look at those fools, it's like a welfare line/Good thing being a junkie ain't no crime/Now don't get them and me confused/Methadone, methadone, methadone blues." A

Aftermath [Agent Love/Thirty Tigers, 2020]
Having exhausted celebrity rehab last album out, Cook homes in on her home subject: women in the less pious precincts of the sub-middle class South, many of whom frequent the country music buckets of blood her daddy played as well as working that farm. Their belle ideal inspires the classic-in-waiting "Thick Georgia Woman," with her "hair that reaches for the sky" in the humid air without distracting from that "basket of peaches under her clothes." And closing it all out is the John Prine tribute "Mary, the Submissing Years," in which a 12-year-old Jesus disappears one Sunday after church, leaving his mom to relocate to Chattanooga, watch Steel Magnolias, drink rosť, take a few classes, and go on Instagram until she chops off her hair so as to pose as a man and save him from the fraternity hazing--"the worst kind"--she knows he has in store. A-

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