Swear to God, sometimes I think I can't get anything right. I write a column for Bob Segarini's Don't Believe a Word I Say blog and just a couple of weeks ago wrote a capsule review of Scott Cook's Further Down the Line. I thought it was okay and when I got a message from Cook, I was pretty sure I had nailed it. Until I read the message. I had mentioned that he was a B.C. Boy. Turns out he is from Alberta. (Hey, if it's Canada and outside of Vancouver, I'm lost!) I also credited what turns out to be a traditional song to Woody Guthrie. Not that Cook cared all that much, but truth is truth and in the way of being honest... So I am now on music and history probation and have to send Scott my reviews before they are printed. Small price to pay for his music, though, and for all of the other music I am finding.
I certainly didn't need to be reminded of my mental deficiencies, but Cook was right to point them out. I need all the help I can get these days. Maybe I didn't get all of the details right, he pointed out, but I got the music right. Nice of Scott-o to say, but he needn't have said it. I knew as soon as I heard the album. He's as good a modern folkie as we have these days. A voice perfect for the genre. An understanding beyond the norm.
That aforementioned traditional song, by the way, is what sealed the deal for me. “Walk That Lonesome Valley” was a huge hit when I was young, during the hullabaloo days. Just about every folk musician and band played it. A standard spiritual, it originally keyed on mother, father, and John (the Baptist? Hell if I know). Cook's version steps beyond and includes modern day personages--- Isabella Baumfree, Father Daniel Berrigan, Chelsea (Bradley) Manning. The same song Woody Guthrie and The Kingston Trio sang, updated. And a version straight out of hullabaloo.
The album has a string of originals and co-written originals, every one an excellent example of the genre. Straight vocals in a sort of campfire setting, practically made for Cook's voice. Some chucklers, some political, some from the heart. Favorites are “Dogs and Kids” (“My best friends always struck me as simultaneously childlike and godlike, with the Lost Boys' mix of mischief and superpowers, Despite our predictions, and our best efforts, we're all growing up a bit.”); “Alberta, You're Breaking My Heart” (“I wrote this one with my buddy Benjamin Caldwell, up at his family's home in Queensland's Glasshouse Mountains. He suggested the title, and we asked ourselves what kind of woman my oil-drunk, cash-rich but heavily indebted home province of Alberta would be.”); and “Fellas, Get Out the Way” (“Music tends to be a boys' game, and I didn't tour much with gals until the last few years. It's been an eye-opening experience for me, seeing how subtly and pervasively women are objectified, demeaned, and man-splained to in the course of their work. The way soundmen and venue owners assume they don't know how their stuff works, when they're hired professionals. The way they're introduced as 'beautiful and talented.' The way they constantly get mistaken for girlfriends or groupies. (Paragraph) I'm just starting to see the long shadow cast over history by this most fundamental of systematic inequalities, because it's outside my experience. Thankfully, I'm lucky enough to have women in my life who trust me enough to tell me about it, and to call me on the various ways in which I continue to buy into and perpetuate the old way. (Paragraph) I reckon it goes back all the way to our primate ancestors. We're a sexually dimorphic species. Males tend to be bigger than females, and therefore able to overpower them. Social contracts grew up around this, to stop men from fighting over women. And consequently, women were considered property for so long that we still haven't gotten over it. Our religious texts assume it. Our social mores still bear it out. In England and Wales, marital rape was only made illegal in 1991. Women themselves haven't gotten over the various ways in which they were taught to think of themselves as unequal. And yet, it seems there are plenty of folks who think feminism's gone too far, just like they wish people would stop talking about race and gender issues, stop complaining that they've been oppressed and pull themselves up like the rest of us have had to. (Paragraph) That viewpoint's only available from a mountaintop of privilege, but that's the insidious thing about privilege: how easily it goes unnoticed, especially for white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, able-minded, first-world-passport-holding men like me. I don't rape women. I didn't kill natives or own slaves, right? I don't need to be sorry for what my ancestors did. I worked hard to get where I am. But I still benefit from a system built on centuries of rape and genocide. And that order of things is still being upheld, from Standing Rock to catcalls on the avenue. (Paragraph) I've never had to wonder whether a cab wouldn't pick me up because of my race, I've never been singled out by police for looking native and homeless. And I've never once been scared that I was going to be raped. (Paragraph) When I first set out on the road alone, living in my van, people said that was brave. It never even occurred to me how much braver that move would be for a woman. (Paragraph) I'm very grateful we're beginning to talk about these things. Sure, I wish we could live in a world where sex, gender, race,and all the rest weren't issues. But we don't live in that world, and we won't get there by pretending we do. We fellas have had thousands of years to do the talking and the deciding, and look at what we've done to the world. Let's try and listen for awhile, don'tcha think?”).
If you just scanned over that last part or didn't read it at all, you may be one of the reasons things are going to hell in a handbasket. I, myself, am glad to see it put in print (and in song). This used to be what a large percentage of folk music was all about. Correcting injustice. Fighting inequality.
I'm pretty sure Cook is right. Look what we have done to the world. Perhaps we should all line up behind him and sing in unison. It may be the last real chance we have.
I call the package Cook put together for this album a CD chapbook because it resembles collections of poetry which became popular some years ago. Smaller than a book, chapbooks fit the volume of poetry published by certain authors who either did not produce output enough for a book or who just liked the format. Cook's is CD-size with lyrics and explanations of songs and even chord charts, should anyone want to attempt playing the songs themselves. Beautifully done with photos the quality of, say, National Geographic, and perfect for gift-giving. You can pick up copies from Cook himself at www.scottcook.net. I don't think he had all that many printed, so I suggest you go there now. Just in case.