Elizabeth Cook’s Exodus of Venus is a grilled pimento cheese sandwich dipped in a Sriracha bath- all the comfort of Southern delicacies served up by grandma but with enough fire and rebellion to be easily confused as something other than a country staple. Cook sticks to the truth part of country music’s three chords and the truth formula, but her impact on the consumer cannot be reduced to bromides.
Exodus of Venus is a brilliant record. A record about place- geographical, metaphysical, spiritual, monumentally multi-dimensional. Her descriptions of life’s travails carry that most-desirable musical quality- relatability.
Whether she is talking about breaking down in London or visiting houses of ill repute in Central Florida, Cook has the ability to make any situation feel applicable to the listener’s life. There is a nugget of wisdom in each tune. Some are hard-earned lessons, others the kind we all experience but struggle to express.
The first half of Exodus of Venus is about getting away- releasing, escaping. “Exodus of Venus',” “Dyin’,” “Evacuation,” “Dharma Gate,” “Slow Pain,” even the titles suggest a journey away from current circumstances, a getaway from perceived reality. My mother had a family friend once tell her that you spend the first half of your life trying to get away from home and the second doing whatever you can to return. I have learned not to take such advice literally. Home is more than the place we were raised.
Exodus of Venus takes us home to heal on side B. Much of the record describes places in and around where Cook was reared. “Methadone Blues” ostensibly describes trips to the methadone clinic in Jacksonville, FL, but its message of continually chasing elusive relief could refer to the struggles of folks imprisoned by myriad circumstances around the world. The fact that Cook writes what she knows gives us a foothold for our own spiritual climb wherever we may need it.
“Orange Blossom Trail” is a tune set just down the road from Cook’s native Wildwood. OBT as it is colloquially know, is a stretch notorious for its prostitutes and drugs. Cook’s “Orange Blossom Trail,” much like “Straightjacket Love” before it, juxtaposes that setting with comforting companionship- a sordid tale buoyed by a shoulder-shaking melody and infectious hook.
The record ends with the heartbreaking yet hopeful “Tabitha Tuder’s Mama,” a song about missing children, a story all-too-often repeated in headlines today. While the story of Tabitha, who went missing in 2003 at the age of thirteen is a painful one, the message of the chorus is to pray, “even if you don’t pray at all.” We can blow up our own world. So long as we survive we have a chance to get back.
Maybe we need to return to the physical place we were raised, to a spiritual understanding of ourselves, or to awareness that bad things happen but we must keep fighting for answers. Exodus of Venus is the soundtrack to that fight.