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The Cox Family

Gone Like the Cotton – 2015 (Rounder)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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The title of this new release from the Cox Family - their first in close to two decades - is a testament to their own hard experience that, especially in the music business, you can be riding high one day, then the next you're yesterday's news. Throughout the 1990s, the Coxes (father Willard, daughters Evelyn and Suzanne and son Sidney) from Cotton Valley, La. were among the hottest acts in bluegrass and the emerging country-based genre now known as Americana. Their collaboration with Alison Krauss, "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow" collected a Grammy in 1995, and though a record deal with the late Asylum label fell through a couple of years later, they took part in the "O Brother" mania, contributing a song to the soundtrack and making cameo appearances in the film. Then, in the summer of 2000 Willard and his wife Marie were seriously injured in an automobile accident, the music business had to take a back seat to reality, and the Coxes stepped back to keep the home fires burning.

A casualty of the end of their relationship with Asylum was a 1997 album, produced by Krauss that was a little more than half-complete. The Asylum catalog had been acquired by Warner Nashville, and the tapes were collecting dust in the vault, when a chance conversation between executives of both companies led, almost literally, to the resurrection of the album. The full, fascinating story is too long and complex to relate here, but the good news is that "Gone Like The Cotton" brings the close harmony of the Cox Family into the spotlight again, and they haven't lost a thing - if anything, like fine wine, they've improved with age.

As a result of his injuries Willard Cox is no longer able to perform, but it turns out that his lead vocals had been recorded for the album before it got shelved, and he shines here on the Louvin Brothers' "Cash On The Barrelhead," as well as on "Honky Tonk Blues" (not the Hank Williams song, this one is from the fiddling Cline brothers, Charlie and "Curly Ray").

In choosing material, the Coxes always seemed to adhere to the notion that a good song is a good song, wherever it comes from, and Evelyn's lead vocal on "Lost Without Your Love" (a Top 40 hit for David Gates and Bread nearly 40 years ago) confirms that. The opening track, "Good Imitation Of The Blues" shows that Suzanne is still among the most riveting vocalists around.

The arrangements and production are possibly a bit more electric - and eclectic - than their fans of 20 years ago may recall, but it all fits squarely into the country/blues ethic, and the harmonies are as superb as ever.

It's the title track, though, that stands out as the best indicator of what the Cox Family is all about. Written by Sidney and Suzanne, it's a homily to the fact that, as they know all too well, the good times come and go all too soon. But they've proven F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he wrote "There are no second acts in American lives."