Phil Cook’s Southland Revue: Trials, Troubles, Heartaches
Duke Gardens, Durham
Monday, June 22, 2015

Despite the late-June heat Monday night, a decent crowd gathered at Duke Gardens for a special presentation from Duke Performances—the first installment of Phil Cook’s Southland Revue, a three-night stand celebrating Cook’s forthcoming record, Southland Mission, which arrives September 11. Cook explained that this first night would help tell “the story of how the music got to where it got.” While the evening offered a great set of songs, I suspect the next two nights will round out a better picture of the development of Southland Mission.

Cook began solo with two songs from his 2011 album, Hungry Mother Blues, before inviting The Tender Fruit’s Christy Smith and Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire onstage. Together, they tackled McEntire’s duet with Indigo Girl Amy Ray, “When You Come For Me,” Smith’s “Again” and the traditional bluegrass tune “Green Pastures.”

Cook’s band, The Guitarheels, joined next, adding more familiar faces: James Wallace on keys, Ryan Gustafson on guitar, Jeanne Jolly on vocals and Cook’s younger brother, Brad, on bass. Durham’s Tamisha Waden and Brevan Hampden took over duties on vocals and congas, respectively, with Minneapolis’ JT Bates behind the main kit. Waden led a rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” which seemed an odd choice, but she and the band pulled it off beautifully. Their interpretation of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey,” led by Jolly, was wonderful, too.

But Cook and The Guitarheels hit their high mark when Frazey Ford stepped onstage. For a few songs, it felt like this was her show—and that was just fine. Immensely charming and sharp, she proved a natural fit for the band. Indeed, for much of the evening, Cook didn’t act so much as a centerpiece as an anchor, a rallying point for all the talent surrounding him. His name might have topped the bill, but it was just as much an opportunity to showcase his friends as anything else.

Tonight’s performance, dubbed Are You Read for the Jubilee?, will feature Raleigh gospel outfit The Branchettes and fellow folk-inclined picker Charlie Parr. Tickets are available here.

Phil Cook and the Guitarheels with Frazey Ford, “Done”

YouTube video


Phil Cook with Christy Smith & Heather McEntire, “Green Pastures”

YouTube video