Jack Cooke

Sittin' on Top of the World

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A singer doesn't really need a long résumé if he's performed in Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys for 37 years. Standing this close to bluegrass royalty (an oxymoron if there ever was one) says all that needs to be said: Jack Cooke is the real deal. Like Stanley, Cooke loves the old-time, traditional sound, filled with lots of rough edges that create something one might refer to as mountain soul. Cooke's rough-hewn vocals, backed by an impressive who's who of bluegrass notables, take the listener back to the '40s and '50s when the genre was dominated by traditional singers like Jim & Jesse and Flatt & Scruggs. Much of the material likewise offers a glance toward yesterday, with well-loved songs like "North to Alaska," "Dark Hollow," and "Long Black Veil." Cooke picks at least one song that, lyrically, may produce unintended chuckles. It's difficult for anyone, no matter how much hurt he puts into his vocal, to make a line like "that's how the cookie crumbles" (from Jim Lauderdale's song of the same name) seem tenderhearted. There are also two bonus tracks from 1963, which help push the disc to an acceptable album length (around 38 minutes). For folks sick to death of smooth-toned bluegrass crooners, Cooke serves as a staunch defender of non-pretentious, down-to-earth bluegrass.

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