By Michelle Nikolai
Elizabeth Cook: Running with Scissors
In a word: Synchronicity. The ideal creative elements collided as alt-country artist Elizabeth Cook was making her current album, Welder. She had her pick of musicians, a cache of great songs, and legendary producer Don Was.
“We got in [the studio] and started playing the songs, and it was just easy. We were satisfied with what we were getting within a take or two,” Cook says. “It just sort of created a vibe around the record that makes it very present for the listener.”
The result is a rootsy, genre-bending work brimming with lively Southern characters and scenarios. Welder is the fifth album for Cook, a native of Wildwood, Fla. who grew up the youngest of eleven children. Both her parents were country musicians, and her daddy learned to weld while serving time at the Atlanta Federal penitentiary for running moonshine. Cook’s mother Joyce played mandolin, guitar and was a songwriter; as a child, Elizabeth would accompany them to the bars and soak in the atmosphere.
Cook didn’t write songs until much later. She graduated from Georgia Southern University with degrees in accounting and computer information systems. While working as an accountant she got an offer to work as a demo singer on Nashville’s Music Row, and a publishing deal ensued. She debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in March 2000.
Though the recording process for Welder happened organically, the complexities of Cook’s songs are the fruit
of two years of extremes in her life. “I had a really wild ride personally since the last record, and I think that contributed to there being so many emotional edges to the songs,” she explains. “Amazing things were happening and then some of the most devastating things that can happen in a person’s life. I call it ‘emotional whiplash.’”
Cook’s cast of studio accomplices includes Americana greats Buddy Miller, who sings with her on the sprightly opening track “All the Time,” and Rodney Crowell, who produced her last album, Balls. Dwight Yoakam’s distinctive vocals grace the Bakersfield-invoking “I’ll Never Know,” and the Opry’s Carol Lee Singers appears on two songs.
Tim Carroll, Cook’s husband, lent his edgy guitar chops/vocals and contributed two songs. Carroll was a major force in the sonic direction of the album. “His guitar-playing is my favorite on the planet, and I just like the wreckless abandon that he plays with. I thought it was fitting, and Don never questioned it once, so it was perfect,” she says.
In the studio, producer Don Was was completely open to experimentation, which culminated in a career-defining record. “He kind of built a fortress around me that gave me a great amount of freedom. Nobody was going to question what we were doing as long as we were collaborating with him. And he sort of let me go and run wild.
“I’m getting to do something that I feel is pure, and a lot of artists don’t get to do it, and I feel pretty gratified,” Cook says.