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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Put on the new CD from Elizabeth Cook, and right away, you get a big bracing splash of the South.

(Soundbite of song, "All the Time")

Ms. ELIZABETH COOK (Singer): (Singing) I'm crazy about you, baby. It don't do no good. I could tell it to the movie out in Hollywood. I tell when I'm sober and I tell it over wine. I tell it to the judge I love you all the time. I chase you down the mountain.

BLOCK: Elizabeth Cook grew up in a country in Central Florida, the youngest of 11 half-brothers and sisters. And she's here with me in the studio to talk about her latest album, her fifth. It's called "Welder."

Elizabeth Cook, welcome. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. COOK: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And welder - you do have a welder in your family. This is your dad, right?

Ms. COOK: Yes. Daddy is a welder by trade. He's retired now. He's 85. He welded a lot, bought me a lot of cowgirl outfits.

BLOCK: He did. And paid for the...

Ms. COOK: Yes, he did.

BLOCK: ...paid for the boots and the fringe?

Ms. COOK: He did.

BLOCK: And where did he learn to be a welder?

Ms. COOK: He learned to be a welder in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. He was serving time for running moonshine there. He did two threes and a five. And the system worked for him. Well, he thought when he was getting that education, he would use it to build his own steels when he got out. But he ended up becoming a force for good. So...

BLOCK: Uh-huh. And this was before you were born?

Ms. COOK: Yes. Yes. Before I was born. He met my mother when he got out. He moved into a home in the neighborhood where my mother lived. They shared a backyard and they discovered that they were each musicians. Mother was a hillbilly singer from Charleston, West Virginia. She played mandolin and guitar.

BLOCK: And maybe playing in clubs?

Ms. COOK: Yes. Played in little bars. They called them bloody buckets.

BLOCK: Bloody buckets.

Ms. COOK: Bloody buckets - juke joints, little cold, air-conditioned cinder block buildings. A lot of times, they would take me with them and I'd sit on the barstool and swivel around and stare at the pickled eggs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COOK: And it was just part of our life. It's what we did. Some families now, I think, they go to soccer games. And it sounds kind of cryptic, but it wasn't. It didn't feel that way at the time. There was a lot of love and a lot of fun.

BLOCK: Would you finagle a way to get up on stage with them?

Ms. COOK: Well, I wasn't, you know, so much interested in that, oh, I had to get on stage. They liked to get me up and, you all look at the little girl sing a Hank Williams song. And - so I did that a lot. And then I got more serious about it as it got a little older. And Daddy quit drinking, so they decided to make a little project out of me. And I had my own band and cowgirl outfits. Mother was writing songs for me to record.

BLOCK: Well, how did you feel about that? It sounds like it was their idea really more than it was yours.

Ms. COOK: It was. Yeah, it was. I was kind of shy about it, really. I liked the outfits, but the pressure of performing, you know, it was a little forced for me.

BLOCK: You don't strike me as shy.

Ms. COOK: Really?

BLOCK: Uh-uh.

Ms. COOK: Wow. Well, good. Good. It's working.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COOK: Totally working.

BLOCK: And I'm thinking that the woman who's singing the song, "El Camino," she's not shy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "El Camino")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) I told him, your car is creepy, man. And not in a gangster kind of way, but in a perv kind of way. You got a lot of nerve driving that kind of car and taking me fishing out to the park. You're like some...

BLOCK: This is a bad news guy, I think, in a bad car.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COOK: But he's got powers. He's got some kind of powers. It's, oh, so wrong, but it's, oh, so right.

(Soundbite of song, "El Camino")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) We were making love in the disco era, and he was Travolta and I was Farrah. I was like, man, what is happening here? Dude must of put a Quaalude in my beer. And if I wake up married, I'll have to annul it. Right now, my hands are in his mullet. El Camino.

BLOCK: How much fun was it for you to come up with that rhyme, rhyme annul it with my hands are in his mullet?

Ms. COOK: It was fun. I made myself laugh, I did. I thought it's funny.

BLOCK: There are, in a bunch of your songs, these wonderful tiny details that speak so much. And I'm thinking about the song "Heroin Addict Sister," which is about as far away from the song we just heard as it could possibly be. Let's listen to the beginning.

(Soundbite of song, "Heroin Addict Sister")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) She asked for mama's bathrobe, and a pot of potato soup. She's gonna dry out this time if it kills her. She wants the whole family in the loop. She can outsmart death like...

BLOCK: Elizabeth, I think you had me right at the bathrobe and the potato soup with this one.

Ms. COOK: Yeah, thanks.

BLOCK: Was there a moment that brought this song to you, do you think?

Ms. COOK: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, there was.

BLOCK: Sounds like it's a hard thing to talk about.

Ms. COOK: Yeah.

BLOCK: Is that anything you can share?

Ms. COOK: No. I think that I sort of am very generous with details in its lyrics and sort of that's kind of all I have to say, you know, about it at this time.

(Soundbite of song, "Heroin Addict Sister")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) She's a certified underwater welder. She can cook, clean, and crochet. She can flash her smile from her sweet weary soul that'll melt all your doubts away.

BLOCK: The thing about this character in the song that you're singing about that gets me is that there are so many dimensions of her. It's not all bleak and awful.

Ms. COOK: People are complicated. And one of my pet peeves is for things and people and their thought on something to get so polarized that something's all black or all white, and it's just - it's not true. It's not true in our politics; it's not true in our music; it's not true in our feelings. And people are complex. I can't stand to see something just generalized and glossed over. So it's so insensitive.

BLOCK: And you see that in her, in this woman you're singing about?

Ms. COOK: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of song, "Heroin Addict Sister")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) She's my heroin addict sister, and I hate to see her go. And I hate to see her holding on at the end of same ole rope, at the end of same ole rope. Always at the end of her rope.

BLOCK: What's a great show for you when you're playing at a club?

Ms. COOK: Yeah, I think it's a show that has many dimensions to it. It gets really quiet and poignant in parts, really rowdy and greasy and loud in parts. I love a show that has all of those components, is the most fun. You know, still reckless and wild, and I like those nights.

BLOCK: I had seen you - at some point, you've learned how to clog. I've seen you do clogging...

Ms. COOK: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: ...on video.

Ms. COOK: Yes. Yes.

BLOCK: Will that get thrown in there sometime?

Ms. COOK: Oh, yes.

BLOCK: Where did you learn to do it?

Ms. COOK: Mother put me in clogging lessons when I was a little girl. So we said tap was for rich people. She loved it. She loved stomping around in big crinolines to hillbilly music.

BLOCK: Now, when you do it now, we should say, there are no crinolines from what I can tell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COOK: No.

BLOCK: You're in tight jeans or really (unintelligible) jeans.

Ms. COOK: I don't have time for the costume change. And if things keep growing, you know, you never know. I might, like, step behind and come out in, you know, big crinoline and you never know.

BLOCK: You never know.

Ms. COOK: Never know.

BLOCK: Well, Elizabeth Cook, it's great to meet you. Thanks for coming in.

Ms. COOK: Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Never Know")

Ms. COOK: (Singing) If your lips taste half as sweet as they do in my dreams, oh, it's killing me to know, I'll never know. Oh, it's killing me to know, I'll never know.

BLOCK: Elizabeth Cook singing "I'll Never Know" from her new CD "Welder."

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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