Elizabeth Cook knows a thing or two about pushback. By 2007, the country songstress had already put out her self-released debut album and two subsequent albums on two different record labels. Cook had a self-professed “bad taste” in her mouth from “kicking around Nashville’s Music Row.” And then, “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman” a song from her fourth album, Balls, was banned from country radio. Never mind that Cook had been performing at the Grand Ole Opry for seven years—she could not play “Balls to Be a Woman” for their radio show.
“Turns out, [that was] a risky thing to say,” Cook tells American Songwriter. “I didn’t realize that at the time. I was writing it with an Australian artist named Melinda Schneider. We thought it was funny. We thought it was clever.”
Cook was right. “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman” is witty and upfront, an anthem for women who grab life by the, ahem, horns. And despite being banned from country radio, this song became one of Cook’s most recognizable tunes. Audiences adored her ability to sing about the female experience unfiltered, pushback be damned. “As soon as I started playing it out live, people were highly responsive to it,” Cook says. “Nobody ever stormed out of a show because I said the word balls.”
Now, Balls has turned 15 years old, and it’s just as relevant as when it first dropped. “I really truly began saying exactly what I wanted to say,” Cook said of Balls. “So I’m really proud when I listen back to it… I can still stand behind every lyric on it.”
To mark the momentous anniversary, Cook released a reissue of the album. “Now that I’ve put out seven studio albums total, it was a good time to reflect back on what I consider my first real outing as an artist,” she explains. “And to re-present that to my fans to compare to the albums that I have made since.”
In addition to “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman,” this record stands out due to the incredible talent that Cook had supporting her in its production. For one, country legend Nanci Griffith took a personal interest in Balls. “Nanci Griffith was hugely responsible for the project even happening,” Cook explains. “When she heard me sing, she became such a defiant, passionate, insufferable proponent of me artistically and [of] the songs. It really felt like she pushed me. She pushed me over the goal line with the whole project.”
On top of Griffith’s support, Rodney Crowell produced the record. “[I] couldn’t have been in better hands,” Cook says of Crowell’s input. “I don’t think I even realized at that time what good hands I was in. His legacy has proven itself over and over and over again, not just as a producer but as a songwriter. When the writing of the songs is what is most important to you, it’s really great to work with someone who understands the intricacies and the nuances of songwriting.”
Other standout tracks on Balls, are one of Cook’s personal favorites “Down Girl” and the ever-chipper “Gonna Be.” And when you add it all up, Balls is a record that speaks to what it means to be a woman walking around in this world, and even more broadly, what it means to be human.
“I’m proud of the emotional statements of all those songs. There’s defiance, there’s bravery, there’s despondence, there’s depression, there’s contemplation, there’s hope, there’s loss. And I’m proud that the record sort of represents all those different things that a woman, or a person in general, can feel,” Cook says.
Today, Cook is still pulling from all of those feelings, all of those emotions. But now, Cook has been to the rodeo a time or two. She tells American Songwriter that she’s not only come to accept her creative process but she’s refined it. Constantly inspired by films, books, and other artists’ music, Cook knows how to collect each nugget of creativity. “I don’t hit writer’s block,” Cook further reveals about her process, “I hit schedule block.”
Despite battling a full schedule (she just wrapped touring with Robert Earl Keen on his Farewell Tour), Cook makes space for the quiet moments of songwriting. In late 2020, Cook dropped her latest full-length album, Aftermath.
“It’s a much more progressive production style,” Cook says of Aftermath. “I wanted to take songs where I was saying some pretty pointed things and thoughts and observations, and I wanted to produce them to the moon. I wanted to take them out of the limitations of just country sounds or folk sounds.”
Aftermath is a moonshot of a record, but it works. Cook’s got every trick of the trade on the table, and her sound is more thrilling than ever.
As for what’s next, Cook is always working on new music with new releases hopefully coming soon. “Music and art and the creation of it has never been more important than it is right now. You know, people are hurting and we need this expression, desperately,” Cook says. And she’s not just speaking for herself, either. “Use your voice, use your voice, use your voice in whatever way that suits you.” The world needs the music that brings us all together.”
Photo Courtesy of All Eyes Media