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Cooke needs to deal with reality

Brighton Music Hall, Boston, September 8, 2023

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

As Ashley Cooke recounted before the enthusiastic packed club on her first headlining tour, this has been quite the year. The blonde-haired Florida native made her Grand Ole Opry debut, a milestone for every artist. And she released her major label debut, "shot in the dark" just last month on Big Loud, a 24-song opus, a prodigious output for any artist, let alone a debut effort.

Well if the show – only the fifth on the tour – is any indication, the great year will continue in spades as Cooke's show was a tour de force on many levels.

Not only does she have the vocal chops, which were almost always mixed above her three backing musicians whether they rocked or employed an acoustic side. That was the case coming out of the gate rocking with "getting into" and clearly hearing the words .

And, yes, words do matter. Especially when it comes to Cooke's songs, who hearkens back to the storytelling songs of country. Take "it's been a year," for example. In introducing the song, she mentioned that her best friend was in California about to have a baby and the Opry. Acoustic-based, Cooke reflects on life in a very relatable and in some cases specific way: "So cheers to three hundred sixty five of record lows and record highs/Loving and losing, fun and confusing, praying and shifting gears."

What connected Cooke further to the crowd from the get go – and it was awhile before she started engaging more and more with stage banter – was the songs themselves. While putting two dozen songs on a debut is unusual (though a bit less so these days. Ask Zach Bryan or Morgan Wallen.), the fact was that the quality was there. Cooke delivered them effectively and with emotion. No wonder in song after song, the crowd sang along with gusto.

Covers can tell a lot about an artist, and they did tonight as well. Cooke did what she referred to on the set list anyway as "Women of Country Mashup," which meant snippets of Gretchen Wilson's "Red Neck Woman," Shania Twain's "Any Man of Man" and Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats."

First off, they were all part of country music (yes, Twain and Underwood wouldn't necessarily be considered torch bearers for traditional country music), not pop or rock covers. Wilson, on the other hand, was far more of a traditionalist.

And they speak to why Cooke has cultivated a strong female following, at least based on this crowd. She sings, writes and talks from a woman's perspective. Cooke is the tough woman living live her way ("Red Neck Woman"), has expectations of her man ("Any Man of Mine") and stands up for herself ("Before He Cheats").

And while Cooke only did portions of each song, she handled each well and could have easily done the full version.

On a few occasions, Cooke smiled and shook her head in a legit way as if to say "I can't believe this is happening."

Cooke had better deal with her reality. Quickly. She only has herself to blame for having quite the 2023.

Vincent Mason opened with a solo acoustic set. He started with "Good Thing Going," an easy going song that is his latest release. That set the tone for the rest of his half hour. He didn't display much of a musical palette, and doing so would serve him well. Unlike Cooke's clear choices, Mason's covers including Jon Pardi's "Head Over Heels" were more about trying to get the crowd behind him than making a musical statement.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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