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Soundbite

Our critics' picks in new releases

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Kent Cooper is a man with a bad case of the blues. And while he obviously feels 'em, he's content to write and let others do justice to the tunes. Cooper picks his representatives carefully. Some are big name friends, like Sonny Terry, who Cooper befriended when he moved in next door to the bluesman soon after relocating to New York City from his native Durham. That friendship led to Cooper meeting and writing for some of the biggest names in the blues, including John Lee Hooker and Louisiana Red, who Cooper managed for a time.

Cooper explores earthly delights with Red's help on "Held Up In One Town":

"Good God, woman, can't you keep your sweet dress down," Red moans, "cause the wind is blowin' and I can't seem to leave this town."

Sonny Terry, on the other hand, has no problem getting out of town on "Sellin' Out:"

"I'm leavin' out--put my house up for sale/I'm gonna dig up all my bushes, I'm gonna cancel out all my mail," Terry decrees after his woman tells him she's been untrue.

Not all the Cooper tune carriers are household names--yet. Deneen McEachern is at the top of the list, with a delivery worthy of Big Mama Thornton on "Hard DarkLove" and a performance that sounds like Tracy Nelson on "Lover's Lament." Jemima James' sound is more country, full of pain and heartache on "Emergency Call." Her duet with McEachern on "Dog Following Me" is chilling--the two women's voices are so disparate it's like mixing Emmylou Harris with Mavis Staples.

Locals George Higgs and Lightnin' Welles make appearances as well. Welles trots out his banjo for "If She's Gone Bad," a plaintive ditty about a backwoods runaround Sue, while Higgs shows off the form that won him an N.C. Folk Heritage Award on "Somebody Tell Somebody" and "The Unloving Kind."

Cooper's attention to detail, both as a writer and a chooser of talent, makes his blues easy to wake up with.

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