Gone Like the Cotton, the latest release from the Cox Family, has been a long time coming. The album was actually recorded back in late 1997 and early 1998, with Alison Krauss producing and Union Station contributing, and was to have been the group’s second album on Asylum. But when the label went through various changes and upheavals at the end of the ‘90s, the Cox Family found themselves without a deal, and the album, still only half-finished, was unceremoniously shelved, ending up in the Warner Bros. vault at Burbank.
For both Krauss and the Cox Family themselves the situation was clearly a frustrating one. So it’s heartening that, 17 years on, Gone Like The Cotton is finally seeing the light of day, with the group having headed back to the studio this past April to belatedly finish the project. In the intervening years, the Cox Family have experienced both professional success (notably, their contributions to the O Brother Where Art Thou? film and soundtrack, and the Down From the Mountain tour) and personal sorrow (a car crash that left patriarch Willard paralysed from the waist down, and, in 2009, the death of matriarch Sue Marie from cancer).
Such events give added poignancy to a beguiling record that has the feel and appeal of a family album brought to life. Natives of Cotton Valley, Louisiana, the Cox Family are steeped in the traditions of gospel, blues and country, and unaffected naturalness, charm and authenticity are evident in every note they sing. The beautiful soulful harmonies of siblings Evelyn, Sidney and Suzanne are the album’s main draw, and the range of material is impressive as the record combines pure country elements with elegant, well-judged pop and rock flourishes. Suzanne takes the lead on the punchy, sultry opener “Good Imitation of the Blues”, while Evelyn follows it with a delicate, plaintive “Lost Without Your Love”. Sidney delivers a driving, catchy “In My Eyes” that, propelled by Sonny Landreth and Pat Bergeson’s guitar work, skirts Fleetwood Mac. Given that he’s now unable to perform, It’s also touching to hear Willard’s contributions, including leads on a brisk, no-nonsense take on the Louvins’ “Cash on the Barrelhead” and the Cline brothers’ “Honky Tonk Blues”.
Evelyn’s silky lilt makes beautiful work of Kim Richey’s “Desire”, and Suzanne turns Kevin Brandt’s “Good News” into a gently funky item. The most personal song, though, is clearly the title track: a Sidney/Suzanne co-write that pays touching tribute to times and forebears now lost. Throughout Krauss’s production is unfussy, sympathetic and alert to the subtleties of the vocal and instrumental interplay .Gone Like the Cotton isn’t precisely a lost classic, but having it’s a warm and lovely record whose availability, however belated, is definitely good news.