The inspiration for Elizabeth Cook's latest recording project, an EP called Gospel Plow, (out June 12), can be traced back to May 2011. Elizabeth and her trio, comprised of herself, husband Tim Carroll and Bones Hillman, were playing the Strawberry Festival in northern California and were asked by the event's promoter if they would perform at the festival's Sunday morning Gospel Brunch. The Florida-born singer-songwriter, who is perhaps best-known for the decidedly un-gospel-sounding Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman, admits being reluctant at first, but eventually relented, playing 20 minutes of what she says were holy-roller numbers we'd worked up, in the style of what I recalled from my childhood.
Explaining to Tim that the songs would come off sounding like bluegrass but that she wanted him to play guitar like Creedence Clearwater Revival, she says that as they began, things felt electric like a current struck up between us and the audience and went zig-zagging around the cold wet morning grass. It shook me and woke us all right up.
Although she says that while growing up she heard many country bands twanging for Jesus, Elizabeth was also struck by the fact that she hasn't heard many bands doing that lately, but that her passion for gospel music has never diminished. During her young childhood, before her father quit drinking and had to stay out of the bars, Elizabeth's parents had a honky-tonk group that played most Friday and Saturday nights at one of two bars in Sumter County, Florida.
On Sunday mornings, they liked to sleep in and recuperate from the week a little, she recalls. For added peace, they'd do what I'm sure they felt was a noble deed and solid parenting: dress me up and send me [to church], where I could go and learn stories from the Bible and have cookies. What they didn't fully conceive, I believe, is I wasn't building glitter temples out of Popsicle sticks on a carpeted Sunday-school-room floor. The Sunset Park Church of God believed in everyone, of all ages, getting in one room at one time. We were gonna call on the man himself and it was going to take every man, woman and child in a full-on praise parade.
Equating the experience to witnessing a rock 'n' roll show, Elizabeth says people wept, passed out, spoke in tongues, got healed or pretended to ... with two or three hours of music being played before the sermon would even start. While that influence made its way into the latest recording project from the award-winning performer, SiriusXM radio personality and favorite Late Show With David Letterman guest, Elizabeth adds that the seven-track collection is also about dealing with the recent loss of her father.
It helped in the midst of time marching on, to take a minute and reflect, and cry and wail and rock and cradle my grief the best way I know how, she notes. I think about my daddy and how he shuck and jived with what life dealt him; his resilience, his story, my story and really everybody's story, from the biblical cast to the folks next door. In light of all these things, in the end, it's about a Gospel Plow.