PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Amy Cook: Summer Skin

The singsong rhythms, light syncopation, and gently sung lyrics belie the violence of the cruel world. The result can simply be called weird.

Amy Cook

Summer Skin

Label: Roothouse
US Release Date: 2012-08-28
UK Release Date: Import

The weird thing about Amy Cook’s latest disc is how normal it sounds at first listen. Her lush, aching country-rock voice resembles that of many other female singers on the FM dial. The dozen tunes are of a conventional length and feature the same basic guitar, bass, drums, instrumentation one hears on many top-selling records. (Cook’s backed by such talented musicians as bassist Me’Shell N’Degeocello, guitarists David Garza and Chris Bruce, and drummer Jonathan Wilson.) But the more one hears, the stranger the songs sound. There is more going on than what initially meets the ear.

In Cook’s world, airplanes do not fly. They drive down the roads and byways. Cars fly on roads like California’s legendary Highway 101. And Cook finds that those who engage in other forms of transportation, well -- walking while on fire is a difficult task. These images are spread over three different songs as the one constant on the record is that everything is changing, from the seasons to our skin to our state of mind.

The worst thing a person can do is nothing, Cook notes on “Waiting for the World to End”. “The one thing I won’t do / Is sit around with you," she complains. Yeah, maybe civilization as we know it will end in self-destruction. Maybe we have no control over the bad things that happen. That’s no reason to just hang out. In fact the opposite is true; that is the reason to do something. Still, Cook is cautious. On another song, she puts rocks in her pocket to slow her down because she understands going faster and faster can just leave dizzy by seeing the “Sun Setting Backwards”.

Cook conveys her thoughts and feelings through vocal restraint. Even when she sings loudly about the pain of loss, as in “It’s Gonna Rain”, it always sounds like she’s holding back. This adds a formal feeling to the pronouncements. And the same is true when she croons about happiness, like on the fable-esque “Levee” as Cook goes from a chorus of “helpless, helpless” to “holy, holy” while singing about family matters. Her ability to keep from yelping or shouting, laughing or crying, while singing about deep emotional matters allows her get as odd as she wants. It’s like the way one can say a deeply insulting remark to an authority in a civil tone with clean language, and be complimented for one’s positive feedback. While if one just loudly spouted a two-word epithet that begins with an “f”, one’s opinion would not be considered seriously. The two expressions could be identical in meaning.

Which leads to a mention of the most idiosyncratic tune, “Hello Bunny”. At first, this just sounds like a paean to those yard varmints that run through suburban lawns. Soon it turns into a morality tale where mom runs away to the hills, the baby’s hooked on pills, and danger lies in the basement. The bunny is advised to get a Bowie knife to literally save her hide from those that would kill her for her skin. The singsong rhythms, light syncopation, and gently sung lyrics belie the violence of the cruel world. The result can simply be called weird: That seems an apt description of a little rabbit, who’s prepared to name names and wields a large pointed blade for protection against enemies.

But then again, Cook relocated several years ago from California to Austin, Texas: a city with the motto “Keep Austin Weird”. She’s a regular performer at Lambert's (Details about the place would only make you drool with hunger), and Cook is joined by an other Austin female demi-goddess, Patty Griffin, on other songs. In fact Griffin’s main squeeze, Robert Plant, even joins the action on two tracks. The result? Summer Skin seems a seminal Austin product.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.