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Tommy Lee Cook - Outside Looking In

Two Mules Music

11 tracks Total time: 53:22

Tommy Lee Cook, vocals and lead guitars, dobro, comes together with his partner, Danny Shepard, electric rhythm guitars, to create on Outside Looking In a driving, forceful, elemental riffing music that’s positively hypnotic, and hypnotically positive. This is music that’s part Delta blues electrified, part Z.Z. Topp, and part modern Mississippi or early Chicago electric blues. Both men’s guitars are enhanced for a fuller sound through electronic programming that adds drums, piano, organ and horn sounds. Recorded at Downtown Buckingham Studios in Ft. Myers, Florida, the CD sleeve notes pay tribute to the patrons of their leading venue, Ft. Myers’ World Famous Buckingham Blues Bar, “Where the blues come alive”. So it’s a studio album that draws from experienced live playing as well.

As a vocalist, Tommy Lee Cook uses his versatile, Southern-drawl expressiveness to become a consummate actor, giving each song a masterful, empathetic portrayal of the character singing the song, and the emotions he feels. He does this across the gamut of 11 original songs here, all penned jointly by Cook and Danny Shepard. These songs combine the storytelling aspects of country with the emotional tone-poem painting of blues and the soul-baring emotiveness of soul. Three of the songs are slow ballads, two of them about crumbling relationships, one because it’s not working out, the other, because the bottle got in the way. These are track 5, “This Old Flame” and track 8, “Ain’t No Blame”, respectively. The third, track 10, “The Truth About Lies,” captures this storytelling essence paradigmatically, in a philosophical song of going through it all, from up to down, as might be sung by Willie Nelson doing a Kris Kristofferson song that’s been put to a blues-soul melody.

The remaining eight are medium-fast to fast blues with a touch of blues-rock, and they too run a good gamut of themes. Three are directly woman songs. Track 5, “Grits And Groceries” and track 7, “She’s Got The Look”, are songs of self-satisfaction for having a good woman that are built respectively around food and movie motifs. “Arkansas Dirtweed”, track 9, is a tale of romantic frustration built around the women of his life pictured as treacherous drivers who leave him stranded. The singer’s made into a hitchhiker who’s been dropped off in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by nothing but—what else?—Arkansas dirtweed. “God’s Little Acre”, track 2, is an up-tempo blues spiritual of coming to the Lord through being baptized in the muddy water and having one’s soul cleansed. Track 6, “Devil On My Shoulder”, is the desperate lament of a sharecropper about to be foreclosed on, contemplating whether to set fire to his barn as a fierce rainstorm looms and finally comes. Track 3, “Take A Breath”, is an ironic city blues of exasperation and irritation from being stuck in on the only available barstool—right next to a nonstop marathon talker. Cook delivers this one especially well, thoroughly capturing through gently humorous lyrics and delivery precisely that trapped feeling that all of us can relate to. But all of these songs partake of Cook’s outstanding acting ability to project emotion thorough song. Method acting par excellence.

The CD opens with an original that’s put together, jigsaw puzzle-like, from all those old clichés that abound in our language, “What You Gone Do,” and ends with a fast-rockin’ celebration, “It’s A Party,” whose title says it all. On this number, Pat “Cleanhead” Hayes punctuates with medium- and high-register amplified harp snorts. Outside Looking In has an insistent yet comfortable ambience that takes us from outside to plunk us enjoyably on the sofa in the living room, listening to the stereo blasting away with—what else?—the music of Tommy Lee Cook and Danny Shepard!

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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