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Elizabeth Cook

Hey Y'all – 2002 (Warner)

Reviewed by Jon Weisberger

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CDs by Elizabeth Cook

Florida native Elizabeth Cook built up some buzz early in 2001 with Grand Ole Opry appearances and a CD of songwriting demos that she released about the time she signed with Atlantic. A year and a half later, that's turned into a Warner Bros. contract, an astonishing 100 Opry appearances and, finally, the release of her major label debut. The only remaining question is whether country radio is ready for her irremediably hard country twang and nothing-but-country approach.

Though Cook pays direct homage to her roots only with the album's lone cover, Jessi Colter's "I'm Not Lisa" (an Opry favorite), her writing, both on her own and with collaborator Hardie McGehee is informed by the best of country's last 40 years. It's up-to-date, not retro - though the gently swinging "Blue Shades," with backup from the Carol Lee Singers, comes close - but favors classic country's clarity and directness over complicated, modern pop-tinged construction, underlined by the appearance of legendary songwriter Bill Anderson with a signature recitation on "Don't Bother Me," one of five carryovers from her first project. Melodies that stick in your head, straightforward, perceptive lyrics, memorable hooks and a measure of wit have been the ingredients for most of country's most durable successes, and Cook offers plenty of them here.

"Hey Y'all" isn't quite a debut, but it's the strongest first major label release from a country gal in quite a while. From the catchy opener (and first single), "Stupid Things" to the meditative "Ocala," an homage to her home area that does much to explain Cook's approach, it's a winner all the way.