In 1996, after three outstanding LPs for independent Rounder Records, Grammy-winning country-bluegrass group the Cox Family signed with major Nashville label Asylum Records. The group, which consisted of Louisiana-born siblings Sidney, Evelyn and Suzanne Cox and their father, Willard Cox, released Just When We're Thinking It's Over, produced by Alison Krauss, who also helmed the group's three Rounder projects.
Although the family went into the studio to record a follow-up album in 1998, they were dropped from the label before work could be completed.
Retired from touring for the past several years, the Cox Family became a part of country-music history and pop culture when they appeared in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, recording three songs for the film's blockbuster soundtrack. Although the group participated in two O Brother-inspired tours, they were also dealing with personal heartbreak as Willard Cox and his wife, Marie, were involved in a 2000 car accident that left Willard paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Marie Cox died of cancer in 2009 and Willard is now living in a nursing home. For the past several years, most of the Cox Family's public appearances have been limited to performing at local funerals, some 250 of them by Sidney Cox's count.
Still based in and around their hometown of Cotton Valley in northern Louisiana, the Coxes were stunned and ecstatic when the long-lost tapes containing their second Asylum LP were finally found, languishing in a vault in Burbank, California. Their discovery was thanks to a conversation that had taken place between famed producer Kyle Lehning and Warner Music Nashville president and CEO John Esposito during a joint vacation the two execs took to Nantucket in 2014. Early this year, with Krauss once again producing, the group returned to the studio to complete work on the LP. Gone Like the Cotton will finally be released in the fall. (Listen to the song "Good Imitation of the Blues" above.)
"For years there was talk within the family, 'Wouldn't it be great to get that last record that we did finished?'" Sidney Cox tells Rolling Stone Country. "We didn't have vocals on it but the tracks were inspiring enough and the musicians that played on that thing were incredible. The combination that was set forth by who played in those sessions was a grand thing."
Although he had remained in touch with Lehning through the years, Cox was more than surprised when he received a call at home from Krauss telling him the tapes had actually been located after so many years. But when it came time to step back into the studio, it was as if no time had passed.
"I literally remember walking out the studio door when Daddy and Evelyn and I left that night after finishing up with his vocals and her lead vocals," Cox recalls. "I remember turning around and pulling the door closed on the studio and looking up at the little night light that they had there. This was the strongest form of déjà vu — I looked up at that same door when we came in and there was Gary [Paczosa, the recording engineer] sitting at the board just like he'd always been. He spins around in his chair and says, 'Where have you guys been? We've been waiting!' [Laughs] Yeah, 17 years!"
Like the Cox Family's previous efforts, Gone Like the Cotton is built on a solid country-music foundation with sensational harmony singing and inspired song selection. Dabbling in bluegrass, pop and rock throughout (Willard's spirited take on the Louvin Brothers' "Cash on the Barrelhead" and Evelyn's devastating lead on Bread's "Lost Without Your Love" are two of the many highlights), the Coxes haven't missed a beat, a tasty instrumental lick, or a sterling vocal performance in spite of the nearly two decades between the album's late 20th century start and glorious 2015 finish.
Gone Like Cotton kicks off with the group's electrifying version of "Good Imitation of the Blues." Penned by Patrick Brayer, the song has been covered by, among others, bluegrass icon Larry Sparks in 1983 and country superstar Alan Jackson, who recorded it for his 2006 album, Like Red on a Rose, produced by Krauss. Coincidentally, Sidney Cox, who has had a number of his songs recorded by Krauss as well as many other bluegrass and country artists, also penned a tune on that Jackson LP. His reference point for the Cox Family's take, featuring Suzanne's powerful lead vocal, was the Sparks version.
"When you hear Larry Sparks' rendition of that song straight from the heart, which is where it comes from, there is a feeling of — a belief about — what he's singing about that will just grip you to the core," says Cox. "I'm not saying anything against or about modern styles of music but when you hear a song like that it takes you back to a different era of souls that were doing this long before I was. My daddy is part of that era. [The songs] were performed so that you believed every word they were saying. This song is particularly gripping for me. I remember Alison's expression in the room. We all just had our mouths drop when the tracks were playing. Crazy, crazy, crazy!"
Gone Like the Cotton will be available October 23rd. The Cox Family will play the Grand Ole Opry on August 8th.
Here's the track listing for Gone Like the Cotton:
"Good Imitation of the Blues"
"Lost Without Your Love"
"Cash on the Barrelhead"
"In My Eyes"
"Let It Roll"
I'm Not So Far Away"
"Honky Tonk Blues"
"Too Far Gone"
"I'll Get Over You"
"Gone Like the Cotton"