A Songwriter’s Absolute Best Place to Play
Looking like a buffed Zach Galifianakis, Clay Cook strode onstage to a musical “yard sale” of grand piano, amps, mics, electric and acoustic guitars. In two sets over the next hour and a half, the Atlanta native treated the sold-out crowd to a retrospective of his work at what he referred to as “the absolute best place to play in Atlanta.”
Cook’s professional resume is quite impressive. He lived across the hall from John Mayer at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The two eventually formed the duo Lo-Fi Masters and returned to Atlanta, packing fans into Eddie Owens’ original venue in Decatur, and penning such hits as “Comfortable,” “Man on the Side,” and “No Such Thing.” He was a member of the Marshall Tucker Band, is the current Zac Brown Band guitarist, engineered albums for the Wood Brothers, Shawn Mullins, Zac Brown, and co-produced Blackberry Smoke’s The Whippoorwill. On this night, though, it was all about Cook.
Hopping from piano to guitars and back again, Cook showed his mastery at both. And with his strong, husky tenor, he ran through equal numbers of tunes from his early career, some he’s never played live, and a few inspired covers.
He followed “Victoria” with the story of the song’s genesis as an audio “sticky note” he and Mayer wrote in college after a girl came by looking for their friend Matt who wasn’t there. “Tori came by/She says to say goodbye.” When the friend returned, Cook and Mayer gave him the message – in song.
Other highlights were “Lost Generation” and “Too Scared to Run” from his wonderful 2011 album On Mountain Time, some very soulful, gospel-influenced piano work, a cover of Elliott Smith’s “The Morning After,” “This Kind of War” and “Restless Man” from his latest record, North Star, and an absolutely gorgeous version of “Comfortable.” The second set opened with a touching tribute to Cook’s late friend and guitar teacher, Joe Carpenter, a deft version of Jerry Reed’s “The Claw,” made all the more emotional because Carpenter’s widow and daughter were in the audience.
Cook, a supremely talented songwriter and performer, seemed to thrive in the live atmosphere, imbuing his work with added emotional intensity and humble introductions, finishing the night on piano with a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “You and I.”
Photo by Tom Garland