Songs We Love: Elizabeth Cook, 'Methadone Blues' : The Record The funky, down-home boogie comes from the beloved Nashville singer-songwriter's first album in six years. "I was so rusty I had to go to a craft store and make collages," Cook says.
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01Methadone Blues

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Songs We Love: Elizabeth Cook, 'Methadone Blues'

Songs We Love: Elizabeth Cook, 'Methadone Blues'

01Methadone Blues

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    Song
    Methadone Blues
    Album
    Exodus Of Venus
    Artist
    Elizabeth Cook
    Label
    Thirty Tigers
    Released
    2016

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Elizabeth Cook. Jim McGuire/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Jim McGuire/Courtesy of the artist

Elizabeth Cook.

Jim McGuire/Courtesy of the artist

Never in her decade-and-a-half recording career has Nashville's Elizabeth Cook been one to paint pictures of a perfect world in her songs. Frequently, though, she's softened the blow of stories about barely scraping by with fabulously keen wit or disarmingly detailed sentiment. Those writerly skills — along with her self-awareness, hip hard-country delivery, comedic gifts and ability to project magnetic personality — have made her a treasure of the Americana singer-songwriter scene, not to mention a fixture on the Grand Ole Opry, a beloved satellite radio host and a favorite Letterman guest.

Exodus Of Venus (Agent Love Records/Thirty Tigers 2016) Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

Cook's engrossing new album, Exodus Of Venus, arrives a full six years after its predecessor, Welder. Between the two came a tumultuous stretch: She lost a parent; parted ways with her husband and collaborator, Tim Carroll; and dealt with all manner of upheaval in her life and career. Listening to this batch of 11 new songs, it's as if she's emerged from a dark night of the soul and felt the need to push against the limits of her expression, stretching her range from novelistic narrative to richly impressionistic sensual and spiritual imagery and immersing her performances in the dusky, blues-inflected mood-setting of her current guitarist-producer, Dexter Green. "It's where you can enter that dangerous territory of clichés and cheap poetry, so I was careful to try and keep my true voice," she wrote of her newly developed dark and dreamy side in an email interview with NPR. The risks pay off — Cook hangs on to her subtle sense of humor, letting it sneak up on the listener in her funky, down-home boogie "Methadone Blues."

You've alluded to the fact that you endured a lot — death, divorce, rehab etc. — over the last several years. What did you have to overcome in order to get back to music-making?

This series of crises led to the collapse of every aspect of my life, from personal to professional. Finding and replanting my own two feet has been long, slow and painstaking.

How would you say you make use of the intensity of your recent experiences on Exodus Of Venus?

I don't make use as much as they just butt in. I write what's on my mind, so of course what's going on and what has gone on will be addressed.

"Methadone Blues" was the first song you wrote for this album. What was it like re-entering songwriting mode?

I was so rusty I had to go to a craft store and make collages and do drawings and tape them on the wall — little things like that to keep moving if the words weren't coming.

You're the kind of songwriter who often draws on firsthand experience or observation. Your older song "Heroin Addict Sister," for one, expressed the complex array of emotions you felt toward your own sister. What are you drawing on in "Methadone Blues"?

"Methadone Blues" is actually a continuation of the same character in "Heroin Addict Sister." When she came to live with the family at one point, I felt bad for the relentless battle she was having with her addiction, and the responsibility she clearly felt to keep everyone around her okay so that she could continue to get the care she felt she needed.

The narrator of "Methadone Blues" comes off as sweet-talking and wry. What sort of impact did you aim for in your approach to telling that story?

I never set out for anything in particular, but in hindsight, I hope the song humanizes the character, and makes them relatable, and that they may even show some charm and appeal that translates into compassion and understanding.

You often spoke of the garage-rock attack that your guitar-slinging ex, Tim Carroll, brought to the table. How do the swampy, nearly psychedelic blues-rock elements of your new sound reflect your new circle of collaborators?

Dexter Green started a lot of the new songs by playing me a vibey riff and then I would dive off into my journals. His more complex sense of tones and arrangement gave my tendency for dense narrative a new and exciting template. It's been freeing. As an artist I hope to have a strong enough perspective that it stands via any wrapping.

On top of what you choose to reveal of yourself in your songwriting, you've also been cultivating a sort of confiding, off-the-cuff intimacy with the listeners of your satellite radio show for years. How has all of that affected your relationship with your audience?

It feels like a deeply personal connection. We are family. It's difficult for me to always have the sense of that, given that when I do my radio show every day, or write, I'm sitting by myself. But when I get on the road and meet people face to face, it's like, "Oh wow. This is deep." It's amazing.

Exodus Of Venus comes out June 17 on Agent Love Records/Thirty Tigers.

Purchase Featured Music

Buy Featured Music

Album
Exodus Of Venus
Artist
Elizabeth Cook
Label
Thirty Tigers
Released
2016

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?