The Cox Family's major-label debut, 1996's Just When We're Thinking It's Over, was a small triumph that demonstrated the different directions they could travel with their eclectic Southern-styled music and glorious four-part harmonies, but to say that they had trouble completing the follow-up is a few steps past understatement.
The Cox Family were dropped by their label before the album they recorded in 1998 could be completed, and in 2000 family patriarch and group founder Willard Cox was paralyzed from the waist down in an auto accident.
His wife Marie Cox was also battling cancer at the time, which would claim her life in 2009, and the Cox Family's personal and professional troubles slowed the group nearly to a halt.
But 17 years on, the story of the family's unfinished album finally has a happy ending; after the masters for the 1998 sessions were recovered, the Cox Family returned to the studio to put the finishing touches on the album they long thought was lost, and Gone Like the Cotton has emerged sounding fresh, passionate, and thoroughly satisfying, a mixture of country, bluegrass, gospel, blues, and a dash of pop that sounds rootsy but thoroughly up-to-date at the same time.
Despite the passage of time, the new vocal tracks featuring Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne Cox sound as soulful and precise as the material they cut in the '90s, and Willard's occasional leads (rescued from the 1998 sessions) are great, sweet and just a bit rough in the true honky tonk manner.
The production by Alison Krauss is splendid, honoring the Coxes' traditionalism while adding a dash of rock & roll attitude on "In My Eyes" and "Good Imitation of the Blues," and even giving bluegrass-styled numbers like "I'm Not So Far Away" a welcome dose of energy.
Considering the Cox Family's appearance on the multi-platinum O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, it's not hard to imagine that Gone Like the Cotton could have been a major crossover hit if the group had been allowed to finish it in, say, 2002, but without playing guessing games about what could have been, this long-fermenting project is a more than worthy follow-up to Just When We're Thinking It's Over, and it leaves no doubt that tough times have not dulled Evelyn, Sidney, and Suzanne Cox's talents, and hopefully we won't have to wait so long to hear them harmonize again.