Grammy-winning country/folk singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith once described Elizabeth Cook as “this generation’s Loretta Lynn,” and her early work clearly bears the stamp of Dolly Parton.
She has been on the “Grand Ole Opry” hundreds of times, hosts a popular outlaw country radio show weekday mornings on Sirius XM radio and in 2014 was the first winner of the Outlaw Female Award at the Ameripolitan Music Awards, an annual program spearheaded by Dale Watson to recognize excellence in roots music outside the country music mainstream.
This week, Cook launches her first headlining solo show, with stops in Indianapolis, Ann Arbor, Mich., Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and La Crosse.
Yes, La Crosse, in the lobby of the Charmant Hotel, thanks to Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi. Cook first met Staehly when she sang on a Great American Taxi record, and Staehly now is part of Cook’s management team.
In a recent phone interview, Cook said it’ll be a different kind of show for her, one where she can take time to tell stories between songs without having to worry about being surrounded by other musicians waiting on her.
“It’ll be freer and more spur of the moment,” she said. “A lot of folks come because of my radio show, so they’re just used to hearing me talk anyway.”
“Elizabeth Cook’s Apron Strings” airs on Sirius XM from 7 to 11 a.m. weekdays, with Cook spinning yarns and chatting up guests between a wide variety of music, from Waylon and Willie to Molly Hatchett to the great Texas songwriters like Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt to Chris Shiflett, lead guitarist for the Foo Fighters, who has a side project as an Americana/country rock artist.
“It’s fun, and it surprised me,” she said, recalling that she had to be talked into doing it one day a week at first. “For me, in between songs, it’s just improv.”
With four albums and an EP so far, Cook will have plenty of songs to choose from when she hits the Charmant. Her most recent album, “Exodus of Venus,” was released last year, a marked contrast from her early old-school country albums. “Exodus of Venus” weaves in elements of rock and soul, with lots of reverb-heavy guitars and B3 organ, although the album does have one song, “Straitjacket Love,” that’s pure country, complete with harmony vocals by Patti Loveless.
Even with her ever-growing repertoire, she probably has even more stories than songs. She could talk about growing up in Florida, the youngest of 11, singing in a band with her mother and father, who struggled with alcoholism. It’d be fun to hear, too, about her foray into accounting as a career after college before she dove back into entertainment.
She could talk about her experiences working on albums with producers Rodney Crowell and Don Was, and there are her many appearances on David Letterman’s show — she was a big favorite of his.
Cook also has to have some fun tales to tell about her hilarious Swedish internet show, “Long Way Home,” in which she plays Molly Rhodes, an almost washed-up country singer whose Swedish husband/music producer invents a new style of music for her combining country and house music. He calls it “supercountry.”
She might even talk about her two favorite things to do: her recurring role as the voice of Tammi on “Squidbillies” and singing in the Eastside Bulldogs with Todd Snider, with whom she was supposed to perform at La Crosse’s Cavalier Theater in fall 2014. Since that fell through, this is her La Crosse debut.
The Eastside Bulldogs is Snider’s version of “a band of rock ‘n’ roll rejects in high school,” Cook said, and it has a revolving cast of characters. The most recent show was a “holiday extravaganza” with burlesque cheerleaders, confetti cannons and many, many shots of tequila.
“He’s the hardest partying folkie there’s ever been,” Cook said of Snider.
“Squidbillies” is an animated show on the Cartoon Network’s late night Adult Swim in which she plays the human baby mama of Rusty Culyer, whose family of hillbilly mud squids are the focus of the show. “It’s really funny,” Cook said. “They have their fingers on the pulse of the goings on in that redneck hillbilly world.”
On a few of the stops on Cook’s mini-tour, Chicago Farmer is opening for her, but in La Crosse, he’ll be performing the same day from 3 to 5 p.m. across town at The Root Note with Luke Callen, a homegrown singer/songwriter who also plays with Von Stomper.