Elizabeth Cook, Borderline, London

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The Independent Culture

Sometimes, country music's beer-soaked, tear-stained domestic melodramas are actually true. From the lonesome death of Hank Williams to Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer seeing their dad shoot their mum then turn the gun on himself, part of the genre's power comes from life really being that absurd and hard.

Elizabeth Cook is another case in point. Dad learnt stand-up bass while serving an 11-year stretch in the Georgia state penitentiary for running moonshine. Mum's hillbilly musicality came from a Virginia mountain upbringing. She wrote songs for Cook to perform from age four. Nanci Griffith calls her "this generation's Loretta Lynn", which is evident in the feminine defiance of her signature tune, "Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman".

Cook seems giddily happy to be on stage with husband Tim Carroll, a fine talent himself whose face, like hers, doesn't fit with the Nashville establishment. "Dolly Did You Go Through This, Too?" details the leering "lunches" executives subjected her to with wry perplexity. "Demon Don't Get In Bed With Me" is about the nightmares the city gave her. But still, its traditions are hers. She calls playing the Borderline, London's home of punk-inflected alt.country, a "strange interface", and is happiest ripping into Parton's "The Blue Ridge Country Boy". She tries out a new show, "I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend Tonight", an intimate tale of putting aside housewifely cares. With her eyes shut and hair hanging, Cook's acoustic guitar makes it a stately domestic protest song. It gets a louder cheer even than "It Takes Balls...", dedicated, with a wink, to Keira Knightley. Such celebrities exist on a different planet to the scuffling road-show Carroll and Cook bring to town. As she sings on "Times Are Tough in Rock'n'Roll": "All my feelings, all my fears, were confirmed by Britney Spears."

Cook is too exuberant to leave herself wounded by the tough times. Carroll's "If I Could", in which making a living by songwriting seems as fanciful as doing so by fishing, doesn't bother her. Only the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" is sung with a deep sadness she otherwise refuses. But Cook's inherently challenging Virginia twang soon bounces back.

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