Scott Cook – Further Down The Line
Independent – 2017
I don’t know which is more impressive, the music or the 132-page book of lyrics, observations and photographs that accompany it and document Canadian troubadour Scott Cook’s decade of globe-trotting and the experiences that came with it. Fortunately, you get both.
Working with his acoustic trio The Second Chances and a smattering of other collaborators, he recorded it live off the studio floor. It’s a departure from the honky tonk rowdiness of his last album, and sees a return to his earlier, starker and stripped back sound in its exploration of hope, despair and heroism, expressively delivered in his wearied dusty tones
Inspired by and namechecking Woody Guthrie, Further Down The Line is a state of the union lament and call for change, the line about how “we still got promises to break and miles to go before we wake” a pointed misquote from Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
There are several songs that are equally political in their commentary. Using the metaphor of a woman in a doomed relationship, the mood underpinned by a mournful violin and lonesome banjo, Albert, You’re Breaking My Heart is a sparse folk blues lament for his home province. An area once rich in agricultural lands but now, as he puts it, oil drunk and cash rich, but mired in debt.
Recalling John Prine, the slow waltz If He Showed Up Now is his contribution to the canon of songs about what sort of reaction Christ would have if he came back today, as perhaps “an illegal, scrounging for bills or a defenceless child in the Syrian hills”, calling out those who claim to have acted in his name.
Perhaps the most potent though is his fingerpicked rework of the traditional spiritual Walk That Lonesome Valley for which he’s written new verses about black abolitionist Sojourner Truth, 60s Vietnam War protestor Daniel Berrington, a Jesuit clergyman who became the first priest to appear on the FBI’s most wanted list as well as being the ‘radical priest’ in Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard. The song’s third unsung American hero is Bradley now Chelsea Manning, the US Army intelligence analyst who uploaded classified documents about government and corporate malfeasance to Wikileaks and is currently serving 35 years.
Political in a more playful sense, he terms the jug-band like Fellas, Get Out The Way a feminist singalong and is basically about how women are objectified and men have screwed up the world and should step aside. Kitchen Dance Party On follows directly in a similarly musically upbeat romp and, as you might guess, is just about dancing and having a good goofy time.
The other numbers are of a more reflective and personal, though not necessarily autobiographical bent. First up being Dogs and Kids, a banjo-backed folksy look back at his and friends journeys through life and the pups, both two and four-legged, accrued along the way to growing up, while the perky fingerpicked bluegrass Your Sweet Time is a straightforward love song.
Of the two remaining numbers, one is a tweaked cover of Chicago rootsy singer-songwriter Heather Stykas’s Careful With My Heart while the other, Learning To Let Go, appropriately the album’s play out, draws on traditional Celtic folk, and The Parting Glass in particular, for a banjo accompanied song of farewell, death and rebirth.
At the end of the booklet’s preamble memoir, he uses a quote from Bruce Cockburn “Kick at the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight.” This album kicks hard.
Photo Credit Oscar Sun