Elizabeth Cook has always been an artist who fell between the cracks of country music. Her previous albums, filled with her Florida twang and traditional instruments were far too country to be played on mainstream radio. On the other hand, her hook driven, catchy songs were too lightweight and cutesy to find much purchase alongside such artists as Kasey Chambers and Neko Case in the alt-country market. She seemed, not unlike Allison Moorer, to be trying to find a foothold in both worlds, a plan which worked out for neither of them. On Welder, Cook has finally come down firmly on the side of alt-country. She paired up with legendary producer Don Was who pulled a touch of garage rock into her stately twang and released her most eclectic and gusty album to date.
The album opens with Cook wailing her way through the scratchy, country-rock of “All The Time,” but it really kicks into gear with the warped grunge of “El Camino.” The second track elevates Cook's tongue-in-cheek humor to new heights as she tells a suitor “Your car's kind of creepy man, and not in a gangsta kind of way, but in a perv kind of way,” before realizing “if I wake up married I'll have to annul it, right now my hands are in his mullet.” “Rock and Roll Man” seems almost like the story of that marriage, without the annulment. However, Welder finds Elizabeth Cook backing off her penchant for humorous ditties in favor of pretty ballads with strong narratives. “Blackland Farmer” is a gently waltzing song about a man working the land and trying to make a living. “Not California” is an anguished ballad about people clinging to the edge of survival with the tips of their fingernails. “Honey I know I am just your wife, but I want to be your girlfriend tonight,” she offers in Girlfriend Tonight, before acknowledging “that woman you thought was as good as gone, is just covered up by all life's little wrongs.” Unfortunately, not all of Cook's writing experiments work out quiet as well. “Yes To Booty” is a cute, fun song about why women prefer their partners sober, but it sounds like second hand Amy Rigby. “Snake in the Bed” is a political metaphor that falls flat. However, Welder is also home to the two best Elizabeth Cook songs since “Mama, You Wanted to be a Singer Too.” “Mama Funeral” is a beautiful portrait of a family putting together an apt and fitting send off to “the best friend they found in life.” “Heroin Addict Sister” proves to be Elizabeth Cook's best vocal performance to date, as her voice soars warmly over her sister's job skills and breaks over encounters with “perverted Orlando police.” Like her previous albums, Cooks opts to end with a note of optimism in the form of the jokey “'Til Then.”
Welder is Elizabeth Cook’s most eclectic album to date, and because of that it occasionally comes across as a bit scattered. She jumps from fast songs to slow songs, from sorrow to humor and from traditional country to wilder melodies with ease. This makes it difficult to immediately see what all of these songs have in common. This is an album linked not by melodies, but by songwriting. Welder is an album full of people approaching middle age, exhausted by jobs that barely pay the bills, coping with flaws in families and relationships and trying to remember who they used to dream about being. It is, very nearly, the perfect album for our time.