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New Music Review: Caught in the Middle by Aly Cook

Most successful musicians start their recording careers as young adults, but New Zealand country artist Aly Cook’s an exception. Cook’s been involved in the music scene for years, but only released her debut album in 2011, crowdfunding for each of her three records. Despite her New Zealand roots, Cook’s much better known in Australia, where country music stations play her music.

Middle age is largely ignored by both the commercial mainstream and the critical mainstream, and it’s a refreshing perspective. Caught in the Middle is less concerned with the lust and angst that permeates much of popular music, and more concerned with adult themes like belonging and loss.

A lyric in opener ‘Red Dirt Road Trip’ describes a road-trip playlist with “a little bit of country and a touch of soul” and it’s a good summation of Cook’s own leanings. The first half of Caught in the Middle focuses on gritty country-blues. Fittingly Cook covers Lucinda Williams’ ‘Steal Your Love’, as John Prine’s ‘Angel from Montgomery’. Cook’s own ‘First To Throw A Stone’ holds its own among the great songs from Prine and Williams.

The second half of Caught in the Middle is more eclectic – Cook’s a capable vocalist for the blue eyed soul of ‘We Hold Up Half the Sky’ and ‘Caught in the Middle’. The gentle ‘Sunflowers’ has an indie-folk feel, while ‘The Garden Swing’ taps into the Irish folk that’s a part of the fabric of country music in Australia.

Cook recorded Caught in the Middle with a collection of well-known Australian studio players. Guitarist Glen Hannah played lovely lead guitar on most of the tracks, but passed away before the release of Caught in the Middle. Final track ‘Cold Wind’ is an elegy for Hannah, with band members singing along with Cook around a piano.

Cook’s most important collaborators for Caught in the Middle are Kay and Graham Bidstrup, who co-wrote a lot of these songs. The couple previously played in GANGgajang, while Graham was a member of The Angels in the 1970s.

Caught in the Middle is a robust and classy set of country-blues. It’s released on 27 September – for more details visit http://alycook.com.au/the-new-cd

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