Saturday, March 16, 2024

CD Odyssey Disc 1719: Josie Cotton

I gave this next record a full week’s worth of listening, which is much more exposure than a record often achieves on the CD Odyssey. Part of this was how busy I was, but there was also an element of just wanting to dive a little deeper. This is always a good sign.

Disc 1719 is…Day of the Gun

Artist: Josie Cotton

Year of Release: 2023

What’s up with the Cover?  Josie in splashes of vibrant colour and a funky hat festooned with feathers. This is so delightf...wait a minute! What the fuck is that blue thing on her lap?

A creepy plastic blue baby has invaded this whimsical scene. The shadow they cast looks perfectly organic, hiding the baby’s true nature. Maybe that’s the idea here, but for me the shadow and the reality are equally creepy.

How I Came To Know It: This was me digging through Josie Cotton’s back catalogue on Bandcamp. I don’t buy everything Cotton releases but I like her well enough to give everything a chance.

How It Stacks Up: I’ve bought two more Josie Cotton albums over the past year and now have five total. Of those five, “Day of the Gun” comes in at #2 and is in a statistical tie for #1 with “Convertible Music”. Previous expressions of love for “From the Hip” are still true, but I must drop that record down to #3.

Rating: 3 stars but almost 4

Last time I reviewed a Josie Cotton album I ended up giving it a whole week’s worth of listening and on “Day of the Gun” this happened again. Despite the lighthearted beat of her music, and the youthful enthusiasm of her vocals Cotton’s stuff demands a deeper dive.

Even as she edges toward 70 years old Cotton has lost none of her talent. If anything, she is more creative than she’s ever been. Early records like “Convertible Music” and “From the Hip” are beautiful, but they are largely about the obvious rock and roll topics of restless love. Cotton has let her interests broaden across a variety of topics. You can tell that underneath the pop sensibilities of her music she is well-read, intellectually curious and just generally smart as hell.

On “Day of the Gun” she explores multiple literary and cinematic topics. At times I could pick up the references, and at others she was either making it up herself, or just out-referencing me on the song’s original inspiration.

On “Overturning” Cotton turns her mind to culture in decline, while at the same time celebrating western literary and mythological traditions. In slightly over three minutes she pays homage to Yeats’ “the Second Coming”, Shelley’s “Ozymandias”, the legend of Theseus and the minotaur, before rounding it off with reference to the music of the spheres. If you don’t know even some of those references, go look them up. As Cotton wistfully notes, “there was beauty/there was madness”. There still is, Josie.

She also turns her mind to cinema, with “Painting in Blood” an homage to the Giallo horror films of the seventies. Mangling, blood, murder by gloved assailants. You name the Giallo theme, she’s got it in this murderous little love letter.

The Fathomless Tale of Silky and Sam” is indeed fathomless. Could be from a book, could be from a movie, or could just be from Cotton’s exceptional imagination, it tells of an interdimensional spider creature bonding with a person in a parasitic (or symbiotic) way. I think a bit of both. It’s confusing, but in a delightful way.

Stylistically, the album is a mix of New Wave and Rockabilly (the latter being given much love in “The Ballad of Elvis Presley”). Cotton was never a powerhouse vocalist, but she’s lost nothing in her delivery, and she writes songs that suit her style and range such that you never notice.

As a fellow lover of multiple genre fictions (spies, horror, science fiction) it is great to hear a pop artist also embrace these themes, and to do it so well. Cotton is a thoughtful songwriter who won’t limit herself to yet another ballad of unrequited love. This later career fearlessness is never better than on “Day of the Gun”, which is her best work in years and which vies for her best work ever. I’d encourage her to never stop doing what she does, but it is clear she doesn’t need my advice on this front.

Best tracks: Day of the Gun, Overturning, The Ballad of Elvis Presley, Painting in Blood, Cold War Spy

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