There might be better records released this year (although Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free is the only one I’ve heard), but none will have the groove, tone and taste of Southland Mission from Megafaun and Hiss Golden Messenger member Phil Cook. From the banjo-led cover of Charlie Parr’s “1922 Blues” to the stomping, gospel soul-influenced “Lowly Road”, Cook is a master of that certain something that Lowell George had in spades, that is, the ability to tap into a song’s inherent rhythm and ride it until it blossoms.
Take the opener, “Ain’t It Sweet”. Starting with a sly guitar part that reminds you of a Grateful Dead song about to take off, joined by some soulful keyboards and a sneaky fiddle part, once Cook starts singing, it sounds like nothing – and everything – you’ve heard before. Or “Great Tide” with some scalding electric slide, ala the great Ry Cooder, good and greasy, raising up the song to a point where it just floats along on an energy all its own. He can remind you a bit of JJ Grey and Mofro, although Cook seems to have a broader range, such as on the mandolin-fueled “Belong” which sounds as if you first heard it under some tree at a bluegrass festival.
From moments that bring to mind the vocals and guitar of Pop Staples, to delicate acoustic moments, Phil Cook has a singular voice, a great sense of sound, and songwriting talent in spades. Southland Mission is one of those rare, rare records that you can listen to for days on end. Trust me, I know from experience. Exquisite.