Phil Cook is part of a new generation of musicians immersing themselves in the musical tradition of the deep south. Hailing from Wisconsin Cook moved to North Carolina nearly a decade a go and has become a fixture of the music community in that region working with the likes of Matthew E White and Hiss Golden Messenger. His second solo album Southland Mission was released earlier this year and it's a breath of fresh air, not only in it's authenticity and lack of pretence but also in it's execution which is meticulous. It's a record built around a lo-fi relaxed groove dipping into the well of blues, folk and old time country, it captures the struggles and challenges of a different period, a time in American history when music held an important position in society, especially in the south where it was indelibly linked with its community.
Ain't It Sweet is an opening to the path you are about to travel on, some New Orleans style piano, funky guitar and the wafting sounds of fiddle. It comes across as a joyous musical expression, capturing all the musical flavours of the south, it also expresses something a little darker in that peace of mind isn't captured in the mortal world,
When we were wide awake, we were dead and gone
Then we'll find a way just to carry on
And we'll carry on
And we'll never be alone
The sprightly 1922 was written by another southern practitioner Charlie Parr (who has graced these shores many a time). It's a tale of the plight of life on the land a rich source of material for all writers, in the tradition of Steinbeck there is the constant sense that no matter how many times you get up there is someone there to knock you back down. The young itinerant in the song just can't catch a break, from the bank wanting his deed to being in the clutches of the company store, the only thing looking good is the road.
Well I hitched me a ride on the way back home
And I got me a job on a family farm
Times are hard here and I can't roam
But I ain't got nothing more
And I owe that company store boy
Road's looking good for sure boy.
The apocalyptic Great Tide features a scorching guitar opening, the southern tradition has always been filled with tales of a second coming, floods to fill the plains, crops and fields to burn under the withering southern sun, redemption always to follow. Belong is musically steeped in the Appalachian tradition, mandolin and fiddle weaving deftly against the low strum of an acoustic guitar. Sittin on the Fence is a great greasy slice of southern funk, Anybody Else is a highlight a driving groove with some nice vocal interplay with guest Frazey Ford.