Every once in a while, a music project catches me completely off guard. Kristy Cox’s Part of Me, on Pisgah Ridge Records, is one of those projects, stacking up so far as one of my favorite recordings of the year.
Part of the attraction is Cox’s voice, tender on some songs, a little rough around the edges (in a good way) on others. I’ve grown weary over the years of Alison Krauss imitators. There’s already one AK, and she’s pretty spectacular, so why bother with a pale imitation? Cox gets points – a lot of points, in my book – for sounding great on her own, no imitation necessary.
Another big part of my attraction to Part of Me is the outsize roll Jerry Salley played here. As the producer, he offers up a recording that is crisp and clean, with a pleasant blend of tempos, styles and songs. No cookie cutters were used in the assembly of this one! And as a songwriter, he contributed to eight of the 11 tracks. They, too, cover a wide range, making this yet another project in which Salley makes a strong case for why he should be IBMA’s songwriter of the year. If you’re going to write a song with someone or hire a producer for your CD, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better.
Then add some of the best pickers around—Stephen Mougin on guitar, Mike Bub on upright bass, Jason Roller doubling on fiddle and mandolin, Justin Moses on Dobro and Steve Sutton on banjo—and harmonies by Jerry and Maggie Salley. The fiddle and banjo work is especially noteworthy.
The result is about as complete a package as you’ll find anywhere in bluegrass this year.
Cox shines above it all. From the get-lost snarl of Baby, You Ain’t Baby Anymore to the tender, broken-hearted feel of The Part of Me (That’s Still in Love With You), she hooks listeners and reels them in.
Especially powerful, in different ways, are two songs with ties to the SteelDrivers. The first, Little White Whiskey Lies, a co-write by Salley and ‘Drivers fiddler Tammy Rodgers, should become a staple on the radio and is probably already popping up at festival jams. The second, Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore, is from the pen of former SteelDriver vocalist Chris Stapleton, now a darling of the country set. This heart crusher about a death in the family is my favorite on the CD, even though I find myself fighting back tears every time I play it – on the CD or when I play out. Stapleton’s version, on his highly regarded Traveler project, is terrific. But Cox, owns it, milking every ounce of emotion that can be squeezed out of a three-chord song.
This CD has been in heavy rotation in my car, where I do the bulk of my listening, for a few months. I’m not tired of it, but I can’t wait to hear what Cox comes up with next. And here’s hoping she brings Salley along for the ride. This is one of those special pairings that cries out to be preserved.