Sometimes a record hits me upside the head.
Given the condition of clutter in my music room and the state of the shelving, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Scott Cook is an Edmonton-based singer, songwriter, author, photographer, philosopher, and rambling troubadour. He’s a folk singer of the Woody Guthrie mold, meaning he reflects upon the condition of folks, those he encounters and the situations he has experienced. I’ve written about him only once before. Prior to the arrival of Tangle of Souls I hadn’t listened to one of his discs for a few years, not since finding a copy of 2009’s This One’s On The House at a charity shop on one of my more frequently unsuccessful bin searches.
I’ve always appreciated Scott Cook’s substantial voice and his ability to craft appealing and thought-provoking songs. What has prevented him from occupying the ‘Alberta favourites’ shelf in my basement bunker, as do John Wort Hannam (who I am reminded of listening to “Let Love Have It’s Way,” contained herein,) Maria Dunn, Jane Hawley, and Mike Plume? Likely only because I haven’t caught him in concert. I find that is how folks become cemented in my memory, the recollection of a particularly significant concert or poignant live moment. Still, like Joe Nolan, Brendan Gates, and Matt Patershuk, I’ve consistently enjoyed Scott Cook’s music from a distance.
Once again, more the fool me; Cook has deserved better of my notice.
Like One More Time Around (2013)and Further Down the Line (2017), Tangle of Souls is replete with intense, well-constructed songs that connect on personal and universal levels. A song like the cleverly titled “Say Can You See” advocates for community connections along with a hope that folks will eventually understand that “greedy opportunists [and] peddlers of hate” work most assuredly to divide the population, “the working people,’ for their own benefit: “there’s profit in poverty, hell, there’s profit in prisons, And they don’t even pay taxes, they just pay politicians.” Woody Guthrie took similar positions a couple generations ago: same as it ever was, then, same as it ever was.
As within the 240-page clothbound, hardcover book accompanying the album, politics are at the fore of Cook’s art—I’m sure he feels there is little point otherwise. Fortunately, we agree, never having been tempted to ask artists to ‘shut up and sing.’ (Well, almost never. Some do tend to ramble a bit on stage.) Cook’s writing (within the book) complements the music, expanding on their inspiration and implication. Each song is accompanied by an essay of reflection and grounding, a treatise, perhaps, to inspire additional conversation whether internal or communal.
Cook’s writing—like his songs, confessional, reflection, recrimination, and call to arms in equal measure—is thought-provoking and hopeful; one appreciates that he has lived his life—scars and bruises, falls and celebrations, joys and elations—as he has deemed necessary: not all of us have elected his path, but reading his words, we become transfixed vicariously.
Weighty certainly, and I’m confident I do Cook no justice with my derisory ramblings; still, I hope I inspire some trust that Cook’s Tangle of Souls is well worth your personal exploration.
A songwriter can have no shame. He must be able to write about his (and others’) low points and foibles (“Tulsa”—capturing the soul of the alcoholic, or at least those who drink toward destruction—and “Just Enough Empties”) as eloquently as he does his highs (“Let Love Have Its Way” and certainly “Leave A Light On,”) and Scott Cook does this throughout this twelve-track collection, all original save two covers: Richard Blakeslee’s aspirational “Passin’ Through” and a song not previously encountered, Scott Dunbar’s rambling-ode, “Why Am I Leaving My Home Again?” (“My stay-put roots ain’t real strong, I got good boots and better songs”) and one that could have been written about Cook.
The road is a connecting theme. The album kicks off with the boisterous “Put You Good Foot in the Road,” and the title track touches on the connections to be made as a rambler. “Just Enough Empties” is a circle song of a life resulting from hard choices. Even the closing fiddle tune, titled “Right to Roam,” continues the theme.
The album’s one-sheet references Waits and Prine, Greg Brown, Jonathan Byrd, and Corin Raymond, all fair. But those are simply opportunities for connection, a way for the eye to notice what the ear hasn’t already grasped, and I’d add Otis Gibbs to the list. Scott Cook would have no trouble holding his own in their company, and I’m confident Guy Clark would have given Cook a subtle nod of appreciation had they ever shared a festival stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he does, should he ever hear “What To Keep” on whichever celestial plain he now exists.
Cook is accompanied by his “intercontinental stringband,” the She’ll Be Rights. Liz Frenchman (upright bass), Esther Henderson and Kat Mear (fiddles), and Pete Fidler (Dobro) comprise the Aussie portion of the group, with long-term collaborator and Albertan Bramwell Park contributing banjo, mando, guitar, and vocals. Others making contributions include fiddlers Cam Neufeld, Adam Iredale-Gray, Lindsay Martin, and Anna Tivel. Cook sings while playing guitar throughout and banjo on the album closing instrumental.
The book, which I continue to work my way through, contains Cook’s essays, photographs and Cecilia Sharpley’s gorgeous eucalypt-leaf prints, also captured on the album cover art. To encourage the folk tradition, the song lyrics and musical notations are also enclosed. A labour of love and gratitude, Tangle the Souls (the book)is as deserving of attention as the album.
Within a collection of incredible depth, highlight songs include “Just Enough Empties,” a tale of innocence, loss, addiction, and homelessness, and “Rollin’ to You,” a light, country honky-tonk number. But the album deserves to be heard start to finish, side one followed by side two, track-after-track, revelation to revelation, in the way records were once discovered, examined, discussed, and always appreciated to the highest level; Cook earnestly examines this importance in his Introduction to Tangle the Souls (the book,) much to the appreciation of this streaming Luddite.
Sonically, Tangle of Souls is ideal. The music and singing are ideally balanced, sounding perfect coming through my stereo of three decades on a forty-plus year-old turntable. All involved, including mixer and master-er (!) Brad Smith, should take considerable pride in the finished product. Well-worth the investment from your favourite local establishment or ScottCook.net.
Scott Cook is now firmly positioned on my favourites shelf. I hope I did him justice.