I like a roots music album without pretension, and that is what I found within Cheryl Cawood’s Bullet in the Cabin Wall.
Cawood’s brief bio reads hard—with roots in Harlan County, KY, it would appear Cawood has experienced no luck and hard luck in love and marriage, making her way as a mother doing what she could chasing dreams as a cover-band musician while helping her daughter overcome opioid addiction. Bullet in the Cabin Wall takes a pair of well-chosen covers—“Shady Grove” and “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore”—to establish time and place for a selection of originals and co-writes, the kind of music that is hinted in her bio, music “as deep as a cast iron skillet is strong.”
The title track captures a family feud going back generations to a time when Cawood’s family settled in the 1700s, while she interprets Tim Henderson’s “Coalfield Woman” as if she lived and wrote it. “Daddy’s Hometown” explicitly revisits Cawood’s Kentucky roots.
Inspired songs including the excellent “Ballad of Spade Cooley” (a Jack Saunders’ co-write) and “Coming Home” provide the album with desired depth, with “Makin’ Corn Liquor” and “Down the Ohio” offering lighter fare. The song “Deep Down in Your Bones” explores a challenged mother-daughter relationship, and one supposes it cuts close to home for Cawood.
Cawood has a voice very much suited to these songs, a bit of a twang, but naturally deep with a resonance that testifies to the genuine qualities that she brings to her Americana, country-roots music. Saunder’s plays most of the stringed instruments while producing the set with Elenore Whitmore contributing fiddle selectively. Michael Bobbitt (piano) and Rick Richards (percussion) also appear. Bobbitt’s “Crossing Mountains” is an inspired and uplifting gospel addition to the album.
Bullet in the Cabin Wall is a welcome addition to the roots music tapestry of 2022. It’s a good one.
The song-listing on the disc is different from the CD running order, but a minor inconvenience that.