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Elizabeth Cook's "Sunday Morning"

On Rodney Crowell, The Velvet Underground and style as an instrument

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Elizabeth Cook and husband Tim Carroll are leaving New York, heading south for a series of shows behind the Rodney Crowell-produced Balls. Carroll is driving, and Cook is riding along, talking about her country guitar-and-strings cover of The Velvet Underground's lead cut from The Velvet Underground and Nico, "Sunday Morning." Originally written for Nico but ultimately performed by Lou Reed, "Sunday Morning," with its drifting, slow-rising nature, made Cook a Velvet fan several years ago. Since, the song has become a live staple, and both her direct approach with the lyrics and honest understanding of the mood make it one of Balls' best moves.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: This is one of my favorite songs, and I've got a pretty specific memory of hearing it for the first time. What's your first memory of "Sunday Morning"?

ELIZABETH COOK: Well, I'm married to a guy named Tim Carroll, who's also a singer-songwriter. He sort of has this vast collection of cassette tapes, and one day he was popping some different cassettes in and just playing them. I heard that song, and something just went off in my head. I wanted to sing it. So I learned it. And sang it!

I've been doing it live for a while, and when it came time to make the record, I didn't think we were going to cut it. We went into the studio, and Rodney Crowell produced the album. We all showed up for the first day of tracking, and he says let's start with "Sunday Morning." That was the first song we tracked for the album. That's the story of the song, as it pertains to me.

When was that?

It's probably been ... Tim, when do you think I first heard "Sunday Morning"? Three or four years ago? Yeah.

I'm a little younger, so The Velvet Underground was a little before my time. I'm hearing new things all the time, and The Velvet Underground's just something I've come to be aware of in the past few years.

Rodney's a bit older. Did he know the song?

I don't know, but I'm sure he was aware of it.

Did Rodney see you perform the song live?

I don't know. Tim and I have home recording gear, so we would do little worktapes and work up versions [of songs]. I wanted to create five or six batches of five or six songs and have that overview to choose from. Every time we'd do a batch, we'd work the songs up how we wanted them to go and sound. Kind of like doing a sketch of a piece of clothing you would sew. That was one of the songs that we included in the pre-production recordings at home. I'd been doing it live, and I just wanted to throw it up on the racks and see how it felt.

What drew you to the song?

The melody line and that little celesta. I heard that part and the voice and the lyrics ... I don't know, it's just a little magic recipe. I sort of hillbillied it. We just made a video for it, too. I saw it for the first time yesterday. We've got a video in New York. They're doing final editing now, so around the first of the year it should be airing on some video channels.

What's the video's theme?

I'm just waking up after a misfit Saturday night and sort of thumbing through some memories. It's sort of reflecting on events that have passed, places that have passed.

Country vocalists doing rock-oriented covers is interesting. Kelly Willis has done some of that...

Who does some of it?

Kelly Willis?

Oh, really? I didn't know that.

She does. When you hear a song with all of this baggage in the rock world, like "Sunday Morning," how do you plan to bring it into your sphere?

Everybody's style is an instrument in itself, so when I put my natural way ... I didn't sit down and try and contrive a direction for the song. I didn't pick a direction to take it. I just picked up my guitar and started strumming how I thought it went and wrote chords. It just sort of adapts as you go, especially the more you play it live. You begin to work up the arrangement that feels the most natural to you. I hadn't heard the recording a ton before I was doing it and adapting it to myself.

Elizabeth Cook plays Hideaway BBQ with Tim Carroll and openers The Wrights on Friday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.

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