Gone Like the Cotton: Family, Music, and Beer Are the Ties that Bind
If you’re unfamiliar with the story behind Gone Like the Cotton from the Cox Family, you may want to familiarize yourself with it; it’s a good ‘un! However, as interesting as the backstory is, the music on Gone Like the Cotton is even better. And that’s where my focus is going to be. If you do want to read more than the sparse information that I’m about to type, I recommend Steve Dougherty’s piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “How Alison Krauss Rescued a Long-Lost Album by the Cox Family.”
For this article, however, the pertinent information, as determined by me, is that the Cox Family recorded an album 17 years ago, and it is only now finding its way to listener’s ears, including this listener’s ears. To be honest, and to be selfish, and feel free to stress “selfish,” I can’t say that I’m not at least a little thankful that it took that long, because 17 years ago, when I was a 23-year-old idiot, I wouldn’t have appreciated Gone Like the Cotton. And, 17 years ago, I would’ve paired every song with Bud Ice. Like I stated: idiot.
Thankfully, I am no longer as much of an idiot. Maybe it’s because my fingers are no longer desperately clinging to the doorframe of the entrance into middle age. Or, more likely, maybe it’s because over the last several years, I’ve been re-introduced to the music that my grandfather enjoyed. Whatever the reason, Americana music increasingly dominates the speakers in my house.
Combining musical virtuosity with lyrics that resonate outward, while still being deeply personal, Americana music is not new, not by a long shot. At times, the widening genre feels new, though; mainly because as pop music becomes more monolithic, music lovers, especially from my generation, are discovering the music that is the heart of rock and roll and the impetus for the populist voice that used to characterize the music heard on Top-40 radio. And the music of Gone Like the Cotton should be counted among the best Americana music that has winsomely drifted into our collective musical backyard in recent memory. Which is why I want to talk about the music, and beer, of course.
Reflecting the continual evolution of bluegrass, Gone Like the Cotton has been infused with the blues and honky tonk. The wide array of songs, including Bread’s top-ten hit, “Lost Without Your Love,” allows the Cox Family to demonstrate that the music genres that have community at their core can be warmly quilted together. The family’s heart-wrenchingly welded-together harmonies stand out on the album, but do not distract from the brilliant arrangements and virtuoso instrumentation. Gone Like the Cotton is a musical show-and-tell that demonstrates, through transitions between genre cousins, the relationship between all those who have found their way into the Americana party tent.
This eclectic, yet not eclectic, contradiction, yet not contradiction, of an album steers a course steadily through the collaborative world of the American craft beer scene. Embracing innovation, today’s craft brewers are unafraid to experiment with a variety of ingredients, often adding life to beer styles that have begun to grow too familiar and, hence, unfortunately dull.
Good Imitation of the Blues
As pretty much every reviewer has pointed out, the opening track on Gone Like the Cotton is an awe-inducing showcase for the vocals of Suzanne Cox. If I can add, as somewhat of an aside/rant, my social media feeds are filled with the praises of popular singers, and I have to fight off the urge to angrily lecture about how far down the scale of vocalists that the singers promoted by Clear Channel are. But, if I start down that crotchety road, I won’t be much fun to visit in the old folks home that my kids will undoubtedly put me in one day. That’s not to say that people don’t need to have their perceptions of who should be tagged with the superlatives “BEST VOCALIST EVER!!!” challenged. ‘Cause they do. It’s to say that there are better ways to accomplish it than with blood pressure raising social media arguments. Maybe the friends that I’m thinking about will read this article. And maybe they’ll take the time to enjoy and be thankful for the beautiful voice of Suzanne Cox.
That was a lot of words, and I didn’t really say anything about the song. If I thought I could get away with it, and had enough of my word .count left, I’d pair beers with a variety of musical aspects of “Good Imitation of the Blues.” For example, I love the song’s guitar. And if I were going to pair beers with various aspects of the song, I’d write something like, “Enjoy the guitar with a Two Brothers Brewing Company Cane and Ebel (yes, that’s spelled correctly). A rye beer, the Cane and Ebel is creamy and spicy – like the guitar on ‘Good Imitation of the Blues.’”
There. I’m forcing myself to be done. But for the sake of helping me not feel like I’ve failed this all-round wonderful song or this column, buy Gone Like the Cotton, listen to “Good Imitation of the Blues,” and drink a pint of Founders Breakfast Stout.
If you’ve already enjoyed Founders Breakfast Stout, you know exactly why I’ve paired it with a song that deserves its own article. This imperial stout, which uses oats and coffee in the brewing, is so seamlessly complex as to create difficulties when trying to describe it. Similar to how Suzanne Cox’s vocals on “Good Imitation of the Blues” is as good an example of what it means to be a singer, the Breakfast Stout is, at its deliciously dark heart, as good of an example of a stout as you’re ever going to drink. But, stating that, I run the risk of underplaying the other aspects of the beer that, in their own right, are as just as much of a peak representative of their respective categories. Wrapping up, here’s the crux: both song and beer are able to be enjoyed on multiple levels. Many repeat listens of “Good Imitation of the Blues” will be in order; Founders Breakfast Stout is a beer, that with each new bottle, the drinker will find new flavorful reasons to enjoy.
Lost Without Your Love
It should say something that I’m unafraid to put into print the statement that I love the Cox Family’s cover of “Lost Without Your Love” even more than the original version from Bread. And, look, I love Bread’s version, I truly do. But the level of pathos that emanates from Evelyn Cox combined with the elegant guitar of Pat Bergeson is breathtaking. When I first played the Cox Family’s cover, my wife laid down her quilting and listened.
While listening to “Lost Without Your Love,” you’re going to want a beer that’s delicious, to be sure, but you’re also going to want a beer that isn’t distracting. Hill Farmstead Brewing of Vermont has brewed an American pale ale that is flavorful, drinkable, and refreshing, like a good American pale ale should be. That pale ale is called Edward. And Edward delivers a beer drinker’s beer. With a well-balanced flavor profile that allows the malts, hops, and yeast to all have their place in the beer, Hill Farmstead Brewing Edward is as uncomplicated as it is delicious, and will not distractingly overload your palate.
Gone Like the Cotton
The title track for Gone Like the Cotton may very well be the quintessential musical expression of “we do not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Written over a decade after the original recording of most of the album, the song is a loving tribute to the Cox Family parents (a 2000 car accident left Willard Cox, the father, paralyzed and Marie Cox, the mother, passed away in 2009). “Gone Like the Cotton” allows the listener into the Cox siblings’ memories, love, and mourning.
And that entrance is framed by heartfelt bluegrass that has the power to cut through the most jaded 21st-century inhabitant. The Cox Family has the musical chops to impress, but they’re at their best with gracefully simple songs. “Gone Like the Cotton” is a purely family affair, and it has that rare quality of transcending simplicity and occupying the realm of the sacred. The brilliant singing voice of Suzanne Cox wafts to the heavens in the half promise, half prayer, “I’ll go down that old lane that I walk through in my memory until I can come home to stay.” Together, the siblings harmonize their familial hope with the plaintive yet joyful confession, “I long to return to you, Daddy and Momma, and someday you know I will.”
Americana music is community, and community has its beginnings in the family; with “Gone Like the Cotton,” the Cox Family lays out their family’s table of memories, sorrows, and hopes for all to feast on. And since that feast is open to all, I’m afraid that beer makes an inappropriate pairing for “Gone Like the Cotton.”
To be honest, considering the Cox Family’s Baptist heritage, I’m not even sure if they approve of alcohol. If not, I truly hope that this article doesn’t offend. As I’ve gotten to know the family through their wonderful music, I’ve thought often about my family, friends I grew up with in the Florida Panhandle, and, most poignantly, my mother, who was lost to cancer just a few short years before Maria Cox was. I feel a kinship with the Cox Family, and my desire, besides helping them sell albums, is to express my appreciation and gratitude for the family’s music. With that in mind, and back to “Gone Like the Cotton,” the final song on the album deserves to be paired with a drink that is refreshing, tasty, and available to all. And no beverage makes more sense to sip while thinking fondly of your own family and friends than Southern sweet tea. One of the common denominators in the South that connects all family reunions, church picnics, and after-funeral meals is sweet tea.
Gone Like the Cotton is distinctly human. It’s an album that’s girded by family. And it’s an album that will echo through the lives of all who listen to it. While listening to it, take the time to enjoy time with your own family and friends, and what better way to do that than with beautiful music and delicious beverages?