Elizabeth Cook comes to country music naturally; her parents had a working honky tonk band and her first public performance was on-stage with them when she was just a tyke. Early in her recording career, she tried going the mainstream Nashville major-label route, but she was probably too "pure country" for that. Making her home in the indie world, she's free to be herself -- which is how an album as individualistic as Welder came to be -- but her top-shelf talent still attracts big-timers like Don Was, who produced the record. It's telling that "Not California," the only track not written by either Cook or her husband/guitarist/right-hand man Tim Carroll, sounds immediately anomalous in its broad, power ballad feel and seems like a conscious attempt at a "radio song." The rest of the album is pure Cook, not only because her offbeat sensibility and potent, Dolly Parton-like delivery brand everything she does, but because there's more than a bit of autobiography going on here. Cook's mother passed away between Welder and its predecessor, and "Mama's Funeral" is an account of the titular event that paints a portrait devoid of mawkishness or manipulation, coming off more like the work of prime Parton or Tom T. Hall of the late '60s. When she sings unflinchingly -- though not without a touch of black humor -- about a "Heroin Addict Sister," it seems a pretty safe bet that Cook is speaking from some kind of real-life experience, if not being completely literal. And it also seems pretty certain that Carroll is the character at the center of "Rock n Roll Man." Ultimately, Welder is the kind of album that only Elizabeth Cook could make, and that's precisely why it's crucial for her to operate outside the mainstream in which interchangeable artists and songs are the currency and distinctive musical personalities are persona non grata. Long may she reign apart from the music-biz machinery.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Allen