Phil Cook, Kamara Thomas
117 W. Main St.
Durham, NC, 27701
Doors 5:30 PM / Show 6:00 PM
This event is all ages
Watch & Listen
On January 26, H.C. McEntire , frontwoman of Mount Moriah, strikes out on her own with her debut solo album LIONHEART , a collection of songs inspired by the American South and a desire to reclaim "country" music from the hetero-normative, homogenous schtick of tailgates and six-packs and men chasing women. Stereogum describes her voice as "weary, wise, and bright as morning sunshine all at once," and that sunshine glows throughout the triumphant LIONHEART .
For the album, McEntire collaborated with many of her favorite musicians, including Kathleen Hanna, Angel Olsen, Amy Ray, Tift Merritt, William Tyler, Mary Lattimore, and Phil Cook, while remaining bravely devoted to her most authentic self throughout the process. LIONHEART was recorded during the first few months of 2017 with additional recording and mixing taking place on the run as McEntire toured the world as a member of Angel Olsen's band.
I came from people with machine grease on their hands. Dirt under their nails. The Bible by their bedsides. Cornmeal and buttermilk. People who need a porch to think , a red dirt row to get lost in , a revival to hunger for. But there are things that even a long , soft drawl can't cover up. There are things you keep from even yourself.
In music , there are no rules. You make your own language. You can be both the Southern rock outlier and the twangy gospel conduit. You can be both the cherubic , honey-tongued innocent and the ardent punk. To get here-to find my lion heart-I had to become them all.
So I sank my teeth into Appalachia. I twisted toward the sky and let the sun blind me. I bought saltines from the dollar store. I shook dust off the hymnal. I set the silo on fire. I hemmed my lover's dress. I pried white quartz from river banks and ridges. Wheeled them up the hill , barrow after barrow , in a fever. I had to mine for the truth.
LIONHEART was largely recorded in my living room , and it was mixed in the control room next to my bedroom by my best friend. If you listen close enough , you can probably hear some hound howls , some creaky wooden floors , some trains running their routes. All that's in there. Some big grins , too , and high fives. A few tears , but the good kind-the kind that let you know you're doing something hard. Something good and right , even if it's swallowed you up so deep you forget what you're making. Some days I felt so small , like the lizard on the front porch. Even smaller , like the spider in the lizard's sight. But I kept on. I left some holes , too. Asked some friends to help fill them with whatever they were feeling-from Ojai to Atlanta , Lisbon to L.A. It was a joint effort: the yellow roses , the lamb , the dove, the wild dogs , the prickly pear.
I want this record to be , for you , whatever it needs to be. Over time , it'll all change , come to mean something else. And that's fine , too. Just know that it was born from a good shaking (thanks , Kathleen) and a little farmhouse at the end of a long , winding gravel road in the woods , where I gave in to the unknown , the written script , the blues , the joy-to the wild , wild world.
-H.C. McEntire, October 2017
It’s autumn in North Carolina, and the southern sun is casting a golden filter onto the fiery-red dogwood leaves that scatter the roadside landscape. Phil is behind the wheel, one hand driving and the other gently holding mine as we turn onto an unmarked country byway. We’ve dropped our son off at school and are filled with a coveted sense of freedom for the day ahead. We start by setting our course to meander the open road.
This morning’s drive is not unlike ones we’ve taken in the past. For every project, album or other piece of music that Phil has created, we find a stretch of open highway, dial the volume knob to max, and drive the listening length of road. This particular trip holds more weight than those that have come before. Despite the autumnal perfection surrounding us, I can feel anticipation in my stomach and in Phil’s twitching fingers. Today he is sharing his newly completed solo record with me for the first time.
I’ve heard most of these songs before, or at least fragments of them. I had heard early versions when they came back from the mountains after being conceived. I hear them when Phil sings in the car between our otherwise monotonous errand runs, and I hear them as he sings our son to sleep at night. The majority of the creative process that went into this album, however, has happened within the walls of my husband’s prodigious mind and in a studio in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today’s listen to the full production signifies that he’s finally achieved the sync of what he’s been hearing in his head for the past few years and what listeners will come to know as his solo debut. He is thus filled with a duality of pride and requisite anxiety.
* * *
When we moved to North Carolina from Wisconsin in 2005, a specific era of our adult lives melted in the rearview as we crossed over the Mason Dixon. I remember clearly that the majority of arguments Phil had laid out for me when pitching this cross-country move were focused on the artists and music that came from this swath of land. He had just picked up the banjo for the first time and was diving deep into the used gospel bin at the record store. Appalachia, The Delta, and the Bayou were all calling to him.
As we settled into the state, Phil slowly began to unravel and wrestle with the region’s own complex dualities. He, along with an incredible collection of creatives in the area, have been finding their sounds and voices within a regional paradigm that shifts and shuffles, ever so slowly, with the passing of each sweltering summer. Now, over a decade into our stay, Phil has become a staple in the area’s studios. He has produced, composed, written for, and recorded on dozens of regional and national releases. He is enthusiastic, steady and humble in his work. He is a partner and an ally for other musicians, drawing people together through subtle alchemy. Phil Cook has become a conduit of American music.
“[Phil Cook] has influenced a lot of musicians that have played with him, and he's influenced a lot of musicians that are pretty successful. He's a populist, like Woody Guthrie. He's never moved into the limelight, but all of these other amazing people learn from him. It helps them become successful.”— Amy Ray
It is only recently that Phil Cook’s story has turned from one of a departure, to that of an arrival. Southland Mission is a soundtrack of shared experiences and Phil’s purity in leadership is self-evident from the moment the needle hits the record. The songs have no prerequisite, no pretension. Instead, as a collection, they call on listeners to witness and immerse themselves in their own journey. Placing focus on the way the tracks make them feel in lieu of searching for superfluous descriptors and categories. With this album, Phil is offering up his claim that the industry labels and genre constraints are rendering themselves irrelevant. Each track is a palpable glance back at the heritage of a our shared musical culture, subtly encouraging what will be a vital shift in keeping true artistry alive. Things tend to come into focus after a long journey, and this record is no exception.
I have cursed this record throughout it’s making, raising hell about it’s interruptions and inconveniences, but above all else, I’ve missed my husband. I’ve spent many nights rolling over in bed only to find his side cold and empty with the faint sound of strumming coming from some corner of the house. On walks, as he holds my hand, I can feel his fingers fretting along to the song he’s humming. Being present means something different when you have music coursing through your veins, this is something I’m learning and growing to love. Because despite my intermittent feelings of bitterness or abandonment, I know that what is coming is worth it and quite frankly, there’s no stopping it. The gravitational pull that brought us here has resulted in a collection of life and career-affirming moments that, when looking back, makes the decision to move here seem laughably inevitable. He was always preparing the path, whether he knew it or not.
So, throw open your folded arms and embrace the anthemic reveal of “Great Tide”, a sound big enough to fill a stadium. Absorb the percussive heartbeat under Phil and Frazey's poignantly resonant verses on ”Anybody Else”. Hop in the truck and blare “1922” out of some blown-out speakers, then find a quiet place to plug in your headphones to hear every peak and valley of the guitar solo on “Ain’t It Sweet”. The lyrics tell stories of loss, layered with sentiments of self-doubt and intermittent promises of change. The compositions are Phil’s testament to truth in music, integrity in creativity and reverence for those who paved the way for these sounds to fall on our ears. Southland Mission is certain to compel you to stomp your feet, pump your fist, and sway and spin with reckless abandon.
Phil’s mission is far from complete, but for the first time in his life, it seems to be clear where he’s headed. Undoubtedly, with this record as our induction, we are all in for an epic ride.
* * *
Back in the car, Phil’s smile strains with anticipation. His eyes are tired and his hair has grown unruly. He’s poured himself out into this music, and while his reserves may be empty, his heart is brimming.
“You ready?” he asks, trigger finger on the play button.
I smile and nod. After all, it’s what we came here for.
"Born in Chicago to a hippie-turned-born-again mother who only permitted her to listen to country/western out of the world of popular music, Kamara Thomas is a singer, songwriter and dramatist that logged time in Los Angeles and New York City. In the latter, Thomas honed her craft playing in power trio Earl Greyhound and twangy side project the Ghost Gamblers. (She also served as the driving force behind the weekly Honky-Tonk Happy Hour series at the Living Room on the Lower East Side.) Performing in the vicinity of her current Durham home with her ace band the Night Drivers, Thomas is working on her successfully crowdfunded debut Tularosa: An American Dreamtime, which explores the Mythic West through a song cycle about a forsaken plot of New Mexico land. It will be a culmination of the first august stage of a storytelling career from the little girl who once eagerly soaked up the voices of Dolly, Emmylou, Loretta Lynn and the 1970s outlaws."
-- Paste Magazine, "14 Artists Proving Black Americana is Real", Kandia Crazy Horse, 2017