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Tommy Lee Cook – Mailbox Money

Time: 48:00

When Tommy Lee Cook partnered up with Danny Shepard on the previous Outside Looking In, they had such a good time creating music and decided to head back into the studio again to see if they could recreate the musical camaraderie that spawned a strong collaboration. The formula seems to work and what results is a solid piece of work in Mailbox Money.

Heading into the studio Downtown Buckingham, these tunes were conceived right on the spot. All eleven tracks are written by Danny Shepard and Tommy Lee Cook. Essentially these are two middle-aged guys who aren’t looking to get on a pretty boy list or hanker for radio airplay.

Shepard may not be the most technically advanced guitarist to engage in a guitar slinger shootout with. Guitar lovers wishing to find fiery fretwork in these songs will have to look elsewhere. The man’s sole purpose is anchored in being a catalyst for Cook’s vocals that bore a resemblance to the Night Tripper Dr. Johns.

Using the usual suspects in guitars like dobro and pedal steel is a real treat. I am going to take a guess that an “East Indian swarsangam” is some sort of sitar. Playing it seems to work in what seems to be the most commercially accessible song on the track “Life Is A Puzzle” that is the most likely candidate for any radio airplay. Fortunately the rest of the music doesn’t follow this blueprint.

Opening number “Take It Up With Her Mama” may sound like a soundtrack reserved for an old fashioned burlesque show with a sex n sway groove. On a drop of a dime, the music shifts into a type of rocking country in the driving “Little Black Dress” which is the precursor to the commercially viable “Life Is A Puzzle.”

Speaking of Dr. John, if you want to hear Cook do his best imitation than “Certified Fool” is a good place to start as any as it’s a cry in your beer ballad. The dobro playing is a comic relief in the humorous “Me And Russell Crowe” that comes off as a barroom sing along.

If you think these guys don’t have a handle on playing swamp rock, guess again. Just when the sexual bawdiness seems to be missing than “Move A Little Closer” plays the devil’s advocate in your personal soundtrack of a one night stand. It’s a natural setting to the highway rocking “Human Nature” that detours into the piano heavy “Test Of Time.” In these last cropping of tunes does Shepard seem relaxed enough in his role as a guitarist to toss of a lead every now and then. Though he could be limited in his abilities of what he could do as a lead player, his guitar playing is to act in service to the songs and not vice versa. It’s back to the swamps in the greasy “Come To Me” that beckons like an evil lady of the lake.

Having the title track “MailBox Money” be the ending cut on the album is a strange choice. Usually it’s sandwiched in between tunes on the first half of an album. Clearly these guys are doing things their way and reserving this track as the finale is a good choice as any. The dobro playing pushes the number into a deeper rural setting befitting a hot summer’s day as a long road trip along Highway 61 takes you to the crossroads you want to get to.

All in all, a very satisfactory piece of work to listen to. And while it’s not intended to blow anyone’s doors off, it’s something to kick back to and occasionally rock to. Hints of Delbert McClinton, swamp, blues, rock and pop are the components making up an album that can be latched onto through repeated listenings. For Tommy Lee Cook that’s an accomplishment..

Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.

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