Thad Cockrell: Warmth & Beauty

Jason MacNeil

Thad Cockrell

Warmth & Beauty

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2003-09-23
UK Release Date: 2003-10-13

Yep Roc have has some of the best Americana artists coming out from its roster, including Caitlin Cary. Thad Cockrell, while not exactly in the same critic's or popularity ballpark as Whiskeytown alumni, can put his two cents worth in his latest release. Putting influences like Westerberg, Adams (Ryan, hell, maybe even Bryan) and Wilco on his sleeve, Cockrell wastes little time getting down to business on "I'd Rather Have You". The number instantly brings to mind Bash & Pop, the gritty debut album from the band of the same name, fronted by former 'Mats man Tommy Stinson. Roots and pop oriented without a touch of gloss, the song seems to set the table for what should be a good to very good record. It also seems to know when to quit -- another rare perk. Chris Stamey also is Cockrell's right hand man, assisting on most of the songs in some capacity.

Ryan Adams comes to one's thoughts with the softer folk of the title track, which could definitely be mistaken for a B-side to Adams's Gold masterpiece. Not pushing the envelope and quite comfortable delivering the number, the tune seems to be right up Cockrell's alley. The keyboard also works quite nicely against the country guitar picking. But by the time you hit "Taking the View", the Adams's comparison unfortunately is strongly reinforced. Gorgeous and quite barren, the seventies singer-songwriter motif is clearly heard. Thankfully the chorus isn't forced, although Cockrell seems to reach for a fleeting moment with his vocals. What makes it soar though is the somber tone he gives the later buildup to the chorus. "Across from the Safeway / Down by the Mission / I'm drinking a coffee and taking the view," he sings with a hint of Elton John added.

"Why Go" is another solid number that is an acoustic guitar, Cockrell and a honky-tonk backdrop that is excellent. His high notes are highlights to the tune, as the rolling back beat harks back to the days of Patsy Cline and early George Jones. Unfortunately, the track listing could be improved, as the Stonesy "Some Tears", which has harmonies by none other than Caitlin Cary and Tift Merritt, is a lovely little ditty. It could be placed lower though in the album, possibly the closer. Nonetheless, the Gram Parsons or Flying Burrito Brothers can be discerned in the song's structure. "Some tears you want to keep / Others you don't want at all," Cockrell sings with the faint harmonies in the distance. "She Ain't No You" goes back to a mournful reflective tone. Writing a letter to an ex about his new flame, it is quite honest and cuts through a lot of the fat such songs often have. "The truth of the matter is she ain't no you," Cockrell sings before a pedal steel guitar enters.

"Breaking of a Day" is another gorgeous tune that stands on its own, with Cockrell's wordplay accentuating the song brilliantly. Cockrell is in no hurry to get his message across, only drawing the listener deeper in until one can't help but hit replay, possibly before the song is over to fully appreciate it. Making the most of the song, the singer takes it down just a notch to close, resulting in a near crawl to the finish. One miscue is the lengthy "My Favorite Memory", a song in the vein of Ricky Skaggs before he went totally to bluegrass. The string touches try to compensate but fall miserably as it goes on without much direction. But the punchy, swaying country rumble of "What's the Use" rights the ship quickly.

The last two songs include another introspective title in "I Was So Lonesome", which has a lot with, er, Adams again. But the tightness of the song is its selling point, not opting for a slower tempo that could easily drag into five or six minutes. And "Are You Missing Me" should tickle some heartstrings for sure, although you might be on your fifth or sixth beer when this happens. Regardless, though, Cockrell seems to have created his greatest album yet. Hopefully there's more where this came from. Just when I had my year-end top ten list finalized too, dammit!

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