Thompson and Cook both fit comfortably under the “country” tent, although a glance at their individual lives and careers shows you how broad and spacious that tent is.
Thompson, English, was born in a Sufi commune in East Anglia, the son of famous 1960s folk-rockers Richard and Linda Thompson, and his younger sister, Kamila, is also a musician. He is, thus, like his friends Martha and Rufus Wainwright, a scion of popular music’s lesser nobility.
Cook, on the other hand, was born in Wildwood, Fla., the youngest of 11 children of a convicted moonshiner. Her parents were both musical, however, particularly her mother, who as a young woman had played mandolin and guitar on radio and local television. Her father picked up the upright bass playing in the state penitentiary. When Elizabeth was 4, she was on stage performing with her parents; when she was 9, she formed her own band. As she herself proclaims, in one of her best-known songs, “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman.”
For Thompson to take up music as a career was a logical — really, inevitable — choice; it was the family business, and he was born connected. His main problem was not getting into the game, it was to establish himself as an independent, stand-alone artist, and not just his parents’ son. This he has decidedly accomplished. From his upbringing, he plays the guitar and sings as naturally as breathing, but his songwriting is completely his own, and unique. His songs are both emotionally naked and ironic at the same time, which is pretty hard to do, and he has a very beautiful, very refined sense of a tune. He also sings other writers’ songs as if from the inside — his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine” was one of the show-stoppers of the tribute movie, I’m Your Man.
Cook has a bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southern University, but her songs and her singing suggest more an advanced degree from the School of Hard Knocks. She had to make pretty much her own way in the music world. Her voice sounds kind of like Dolly Parton might sound if she had smoked two packs of Chesterfields every day for 20 years, yet she can make it lyrical or poignant at will — she has a lot of will — and she has something resembling perfect pitch.
Her song “El Camino” is perfectly realized country rap, and her song “Heroin Addict Sister” explores addiction as unsentimentally as John Prine’s “Sam Stone” (“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes”). Her voice is also the perfect vehicle for a lament, or a sadder-but-wiser ballad.
Single tickets to this Sings Like Hell concert are $35 and are available at the Lobero box office at 33 E. Canon Perdido St. or 805.963.0761, or click here to order online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.