The Cox Family- Gone Like the Cotton Rounder Records/Warner Music Nashville/Elektra Nashville
Forgive us for thinking we might never again hear new music from The Cox Family. It has been almost twenty years since Just When We’re Thinking It’s Over, and excepting an appearance in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, not much has been heard from Alison Krauss’s favourite Louisianans. Given the quality of the music contained on Gone Like the Cotton, an album started in 1998 and completed within the last year, it is surprising that Krauss and Rounder Records didn’t consider buying the project from Asylum and the Warner’s group at some point in the ensuing years; perhaps the financial commitment wasn’t realistic given the changes that have occurred within the recording industry.
Having sat on the shelf of a storage facility for more than a decade, the back story of this recording is more than interesting. Scrapped in 1997 by Asylum amidst changing management structures, The Cox Family faded into fond memory. In frustration, the original vocals had been erased from the tracks when the masters were turned over to the label, with the ‘safeties’ retained by Krauss and engineer Gary Paczosa.
Years later, Kyle Lehning finally convinced current Warner Music Nashiville management that the recording merited completion, and so the recorded files were located and freshened with new vocals from the current lineup of the Cox Family siblings Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne complementing father Willard’s vocal takes from the late 90s.
The result is a type of country music that is seldom encountered in contemporary times. Beautifully executed with confidence that comes through on every song, Gone Like the Cotton is a masterful recording.
The album simmers in a way ‘family’ country albums seldom do—there is a desire within these tracks, a passion for life and music that is palatable. Harmonies have always been at the core of The Cox Family, and these have never sounded better. Go back to those dusty cassettes and give I Know Who Holds Tomorrow and Beyond the City a listen, and as great as those recordings are, this is better.
My copy didn’t come with specific notes, so I don’t know who is playing the opening guitar notes on “Let It Roll,” but it sounds terrific; Pat Bergeson, Krauss’ ex-, Rob Block, and Sonny Landreth receive credit for guitar on the album. Sidney Cox’s Dobro touches (“Let It Roll”) are brilliant while the mandolin on “Good News”—Dan Tyminski? Sam Bush?—is stellar.
As wonderful as the instrumentation is on this album, one comes to The Cox Family for the vocals and boy, do they deliver. Patrick Bryer’s oft-recorded “Good Imitation of the Blues” (Larry Cox, Alan Jackson, B.C.’s Tumbleweed) leads off the album and I don’t know if Suzanne Cox has ever sounded better; it has been said that life informs a great singer’s voice, and if such is true, the evidence can be found on Cox’s performance of this song. Man, she is strong.
Krauss’ love for 70s schmaltz rock is well-documented, and somehow her playing combines with the lead vocal performance (Suzanne? Evelyn?) bringing meaning to Bread’s “Lost Without Your Love,” a song most of us switch off when it comes on the radio. “Too Far Gone” is affecting with memories of lost opportunity, while “In My Eyes” is the most flamboyant, ‘modern’ country sounding song on the album; with big production values, this track isn’t as appealing as the more natural sounding songs are.
Family patriarch Willard is no longer able to sing following a road accident at the height of the O Brother days, but his voice was captured during the original recordings. We don’t really need another version of “Cash on the Barrelhead,” but one isn’t going to quibble. Willard Cox was and is an essential of the Cox Family sound, a connection to the oil patch towns and halls in which he and his family once played.
The newest song and title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne, is a nearly-unadorned family biography. With only the minimalist of guitar accompaniment, the siblings sing of their grandparents, their parents, and their community with devotion and love. It is a stunning and appropriate closing to a heartfelt recording, one that captures in four minutes a lifetime of experience.
Gone Like the Cotton more than completes an interrupted chapter of southern country music history. It again brings The Cox Family, one of the most significant and beloved of roots recording groups, to the fore of Americana culture. Someone may find the recording lacking; not me. A welcome and triumphant return some seventeen years in the waiting.
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