Looking at singer-guitarist Elizabeth Cook, who took the stage at the Beachland Tavern last night wearing a pretty pink dress and big black boots, it’s easy to see why major country music labels in Nashville wanted to sign her to a deal shortly after the Florida native moved to town. The petite blonde could pass as a Victoria’s Secret model. But after Cook played the track “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman” and then joked “sometimes it takes ovaries to be a man,” it’s apparent why she’s no longer on a major label. It’s not that Cook, who played as a part of a trio that included bassist Bones Hillman and guitarist Tim Carroll, is too weird; it’s simply that her music is so eclectic, she’s impossible to pigeonhole.
Over the course of a 90-minute set, Cook and crew capably played a little bit of everything, including country, rockabilly, honky tonk, and gospel. After covering a beautiful ballad by alt-country icon Gram Parsons, Cook lightened the mood with “Yes to Booty” (sample lyric: “when you say yes to beer/you say no to booty”) and then got serious again with the autobiographical “Heroin Addict Sister.” Mid-way through the set, she gave the microphone over to her husband Carroll, a talented songwriter in his own right. He delivered two terrific songs before giving the stage back over to Cook who played a few tracks from her new EP, The Gospel Plow, which she described as a tribute of sorts to the Happy Goodman Family and the Statesmen Quartet, gospel groups which she said had an influence on Elvis Presley. Even a heathen could appreciate the heartfelt emotion she displayed while singing “Hear Jerusalem Calling.”
And then when things seemingly couldn’t get any more eclectic, Cook did a gospel rendition of the Velvet Underground tune “Jesus.” (She revisited the Velvet Underground again in her encore, playing their “Sunday Morning.”) Even though she has a voice that’s as distinct as that of Dolly Parton, Cook is off the radar of most major labels these days. But this performance before a full house at the Beachland Tavern confirmed she’s a major talent.