Like a first date, the Cox Family’s Asylum debut was an album on its best behavior. On Gone Like the Cotton things are more real and edgier. All three of the younger Coxes’ voices are better than they were 20 years ago. But it’s not just richness of tone. After almost 20 more years of living, their parents’ tragic accident, being parents themselves, and perhaps most of all, the frustration of waiting nearly two decades to complete this project, Suzanne, Evelyn, and Sidney brought all those feelings to the microphone. Suzanne opens Gone Like the Cotton with “Good Imitation of the Blues,” a triumphant slow-burn of a breakup song. Evelyn follows with the other side of the story, bringing a palpable sense of heartbreak to David Gates’ “Lost Without Your Love,” her ethereal voice floating over a bed of strings. Sidney’s solo, “In My Eyes,” is a pop song co-written by Kostas, given Beatle-esque grace by Landreth’s George Harrison-inflected slide.
For an album characterized by misfortunes, there was one stroke of luck: all three of Willard’s lead vocals were completed before the accident. Uncompromising country and bluegrass, the performances of Crystal Gayle’s “I’ll Get Over You,” the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead,” and the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers’ “Honky Tonk Blues” are classic Willard.
The one new song is the title track, written by Sidney and Suzanne in tribute to their parents, grandparents, and Cotton Valley. It’s a sparse coda, with only Sidney’s rhythm guitar underpinning Suzanne’s soulful voice, and that heart-breaking, born-in-the-blood trio on the choruses. “Gone Like the Cotton” is the most literally biographical song, but the entire album tells the Cox Family story.
Gone Like the Cotton features four lead singers and multiple styles and genres, but the glue holding the record together is that Cox Family harmony, smooth, intuitive, and other-worldly. The love that Krauss expresses for the Coxes went into her production work, and with Paczoza’s stellar engineering, the sound is clear, warm, and intimate, with no dated 90s production tricks.
“This is the pinnacle of all that we could give out of our hearts for the music that we loved and cherished,” Sidney said of the album. “It’s all of the things that we were influenced by, whether it be the geographical place, or all the music that we played, or the way of life that we lived.
“That music still represents the people that we are. We have survived together. And that music is about us being together, and remaining together for 17 years. And even though we weren’t playing, we were always together, in the common hope that we would be able to finish this story. And I’m so glad that we did.”
You will be too. In a world of disposable music, Gone Like the Cotton is here to stay.