It has been over a decade since Thad Cockrell decided he was done with his music career. But as with anything that feels like a true calling, it was undeniable that he still had more to say, more to sing about. Over the past few years, Cockrell put out two albums with his band Leagues before realizing he was ready to have another go at making a record on his own. If in Case You Feel the Same finds him working with new collaborators, on a new label (ATO Records), trying new sounds and ultimately responding once again to his instincts. Leaning all the way into his pop sensibilities, If in Case You Feel the Same is a vast departure from his early, alt-country-leaning solo records, but it reminds us how much comfort we took in the sweetness of his voice.
Cockrell always teetered on the edge of pop and country, and the evolution past the idea of being stuck in a genre box has served him well. This time around we hear him feeling completely free to fuse it all together — the big, melodic anthems, the twangier folk-y bits of himself, the honest, guy-with-a-guitar sound — all ruled over by his reedy, gorgeous vocals. Book-ended by a two-part title track, the album takes us on an emotional rollercoaster of epic gospel-inspired moments (“Fill My Cup”), romantic, slinky slow jams (“Love Moves In”), and soulful declarations of the power of positive thinking (“Higher”). The latter, an invigorating jolt co-sung with Brittany Howard, grows and grows before going out in a puff of intoxicating smoke. Similarly, “Swingin’,” cowritten with Z Berg, is a power-pop triumph that uplifts us in a burn-it-all-down, nothing-left-to-lose kind of way.
Still, that spirit of Cockrell as a troubadour trying to make a life as a solo artist in Nashville lives on. It is quietly nestled at the heart of this much shinier record, especially on songs like “Susie from the West Coast” and the title track (particularly the opening half). It is thrilling to watch Cockrell spread his wings, but just as much so to realize that he is still very much the artist we fell in love with nearly 20 years ago.