[Hopscotch photo courtesy of Kenneth Bachor]
Phil Cook is a very easy person to like. If there’s a musician — or heck, a human in general — who is more affable, good-hearted and filled with positivity, I have yet to see them. Cook has been the dutiful bassist, the cheerful sidekick, the go-to-guy for a slew of bands, including Megafaun, with his brother Brad, Hiss Golden Messenger, Akron/Family, Gayngs, and DeYarmond Edison. As Phil pointed out himself, he’s had a long career of doing what other people told him — showing up on time, hitting the right notes, being a get-along guy. The new album Southland Mission represents his first foray into the world of the frontman. The microphone is his now, and the shots are his to call. So he’s assembled an eight-piece band, complete with backup singers, bass, second guitar, and keys, and he’s the one who decides when practice is, where to go, what to do. Suffice it say, most of us would be lucky to have such a genial boss. Southland Mission wears its influences on its sleeve — much as Cook literally wore a Staples Singers shirt this night — and Cook’s devotion to the gospel, soul, R&B and blues music of an earlier era is both obvious and genuine. “Lowly Road” offers a gospel-style chorus, while the loping blues of “Sitting On A Fence” could’ve come from Chicago in the 1960s.
These sets followed a relatively similar course, though with somewhat different vibes. The first, at Hopscotch, came on the day before the release of Southland Mission, and was the first time that Cook played the material in public, together with his band The Guitarheels. Staged in the grand Fletcher Opera Theater, with a band banner at his back (along with an inappropriately large ad for festival sponsor Mini), the setting felt appropriate to the moment. Packed with a fawning hometown crowd, Cook’s material was greeted at every step with roars and encouraging shouts from people he probably sees at the same shows every night (I had to reduce between-song volume to account for it, but trust me). When the band kicked off with one of the album’s most direct and best tunes, “Ain’t It Sweet,” the easy answer had to be yes — and the applause showed it. All of Southland Mission was played, not quite in album order, and the band chose to close with a country song, Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Northeast Texas Women.” As he would in New York, Cook complimented the band profusely, calling them a collection of the finest musicians he had worked with. It being the insular Triangle scene, it’s a reasonable guess that many of the people in the crowd knew them, too. Appropriate to the location, the show’s pace was leisurely and relaxed, with long breaks between songs that felt like Phil having a chat with friends. Both “Great Tide” and “Sitting on a Fence” proved to be opportunities for the band to stretch its legs, with guitar breakdowns that took them into longer territory than the tight album versions.
In New York, Phil and the Guitarheels could still welcome a crowd of friends from previous work, though in the club-like, intimate atmosphere of Rough Trade NYC. Phil may have had to exhort this crowd to stop standing so still (clearly he hasn’t seen as many shows in New York as I have), but against the odds, he got what he asked for. It remained an intimate and chatty show, and Phil’s own speech about getting to finally “be the frontman” was a touching one. Similarly, true to the album’s roots, Cook also talked a good bit about his love for the Staples singers (even wearing the T-shirt), and that’s another influence you can feel throughout these songs. For ease of listening, most of the banter tracks aren’t on the streaming versions below, but I’d urge you to download the full sets to get a better flavor of what Cook is about. While there are only so many ways to mix up the tracks on a single album, we got two brand-new covers this time: first, the Blind Boys of Alabama’s “Take Your Burden To the Lord and Leave It There,” and then Curtis Mayfield’s “Talking About My Baby.” Throughout this show, as in North Carolina, you couldn’t have forced the broad smile off of Phil Cook’s face at gunpoint. If there’s a world where nice guys finish first, well, Phil Cook is in pole position, folks.
I recorded the NYC set with a soundboard feed from Rough Trade engineer Danielle DePalma and Schoeps MK4V microphones; the Hopscotch set was recorded by our friend Larry Tucker with Peluso wide-cardiod microphones. The sound quality of both recordings is excellent. Enjoy!
Download the Rough Trade NYC set: [MP3] | [FLAC]
Download the Hopscotch set: [MP3] | [FLAC]
Stream the Rough Trade NYC set:
Stream the Hopscotch set:
Rough Trade NYC
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and produced by acidjack
Soundboard (engineer: Danielle DePalma) + Schoeps MK4V (FOB, DFC, PAS)>KC5>CMC6>Edirol R-44>24bit/48kHz WAV>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (mix down, fades, compression)>Izotope Ozone 5 (EQ, effects)>Audacity 2.0.5 (track, amplify, balance, dither, downsample)>FLAC ( level 8 )
Tracks [Total Time: 1:10:38]
01 Ain’t It Sweet
06 Sitting On A Fence
07 [banter3-band intros]
08 Time To Wake
09 Anybody Else
13 Lowly Road
15 Great Tide
16 [encore break]
17 Take Your Burden To The Lord and Leave It There [Blind Boys of Alabama]
18 Talking About My Baby [Curtis Mayfield]
Hopscotch Music Festival
Fletcher Opera Theater
Raleigh, NC USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded by Larry Tucker
Produced by acidjack
Peluso CEMC6-CK21 (subcardiod) (Room center hung from balcony rail)>Fostex FR2-LE>24bit/48kHz WAV>Izotope Ozone 5 (EQ, effects)>Audacity 2.0.5 (track, amplify, balance, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
01 Ain’t It Sweet
05 Sitting On A Fence
07 Lowly Road
09 Time To Wake
10 Anybody Else
14 Great Tide
16 Northeast Texas Women [Jerry Jeff Walker]
If you enjoyed these recordings, PLEASE SUPPORT Phil Cook, visit his website, and buy Southland Mission from his online store.