Written by Jane Ponte / Photos by Ray Redding
Singer-songwriter Cheryl Cawood is a woman in motion. Blink, and you may miss her as she zips by, juggling her full-time job as a laboratory scientist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, her family, her Texas honky-tonk band Kickin’ it Dixie, and her own songwriting career, along with co-hosting the Old Quarter Acoustic Café’s Songwriter’s Group, all while advocating for causes she believes in and taking the time to work on 3 albums simultaneously. For some, the very notion of wearing so many hats all at once would seem daunting, but for Cawood—whom I’ve never seen without a hat—this kind of stuff is all in a day’s work. She seems to thrive on staying busy, writing songs, and making music with her friends.
Cawood’s latest release, “Love,~pearl,” is an eclectic, fun and tasteful mix of 10 tracks written or co-written by Cawood, with a couple of tracks written by two of her favorite Texas songwriters, Dale Watson and White Cat Studios owner and Houston music icon, Jack Saunders. The album gets its title from Cawood’s childhood nickname, bestowed upon her by her beloved dad. Cawood explained, “My dad was a happy and fun man, and had a sing-song way about him. He pronounced my name “Shirl,” which rhymes with pearl,” Cawood explained. “Lots of my huge family call me Pearl,” she added.
Clearly, Cawood’s roots are what often motivate and inspire her. Her sister Peggy designed the album, and a few of the songs harken back to Cawood’s familial roots in Harlen County, Kentucky. Although Cawood grew up in Covington, Kentucky, her references to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and the surrounding area are numerous on this new release. And while she presently resides in Galveston County, Texas and plays in numerous clubs throughout the area, she cut her musical teeth in the Greater Cincinnati, Ohio area, performing for many years and honing her craft playing everything from classic rock to Top-40 country, some blues, and even a little jazz. She even offered her vocal prowess on legendary Cincinnati songwriter Dave Gilligan’s release, “Recovering Catholics,” a project she is exceptionally proud of. But what seems to interest her most these days is sharing her gift of exceptional songwriting, as evidenced by her most recent album.
Accompanied by a group of seasoned musical veterans in their own right, “Love, ~pearl” starts out with a poignant and powerful tune called “Fool’s Moon,” written solely by Cawood. It is the perfect introduction into what is to follow. Cawood seems to write in a somewhat veiled autobiographical style on many of her songs, and “Fool’s Moon” is no exception. In her plaintive, bluesy voice, she sings, “Looks like tonight it’s gonna shine…another Fool’s Moon,” and the listener is immediately drawn in to Cawood’s world and wants to know what’s going to happen next.
And what happens next is a rollicking, occasionally tear-jerking, mixed bag of good clean musical fun that also has a serious side. Cawood alternates between light-hearted, playful tunes, such as “Wine Thirty,” written by Jack Saunders, and “I Lie When I drink,” by Austin (now Memphis) Ameripolitan artist, Dale Watson, and then delves into some semi-serious, historically framed material with “Down the Ohio” and “Coming Home.” Cawood’s effortless way in which she moves between musical genres, and her vocal stylings, which range from sometimes reedy, sometimes powerhouse, but always rich with warm resolve, evoke true emotion in every tune and give the listener a glimpse into the ability and psyche of a songwriter who easily rivals any singer-songwriter on the music scene today.
If I had to choose a few favorites on this delightful collection of songs, they would have to be the aforementioned “Fool’s Moon,” “Wine Thirty,” “Down the Ohio,” and “Coming Home.” Out of these 4, Cawood wrote 3 of them. Honorable mentions would go to “Salt Can Look Like Sugar,” and “Outrun the Rain,” which she co-wrote, and “Breathe,” which she also wrote. It’s no secret that Cawood is as versatile as she is dedicated as a songwriter, and this collection of songs is proof of that versatility and is just as good as it gets.
Speaking of being “just as good as it gets,” the same can be said of the stellar cast of players that have lent their talents to this worthy project. Joining Cawood on this album are Eleanor Whitmore (The Mastersons, Steve Earle & The Dukes) on the fiddle, the legendary Lloyd Maines on steel guitar, the aforementioned Jack Saunders on vocals, bass, and guitar, Allen Huff on accordion, and drummer extraordinaire Rick Richards on percussion. These guys have all brought their “A” game to this effort and the end result is a tight, well-executed, professional album that gets better with every listen. If Cawood isn’t beaming with pride over the craftsmanship and talent that went into this labor of love, she certainly should be. This material is radio-worthy and relevant; Cawood should be over the moon with this solid first solo effort.
It is both exciting and hard to imagine that Cawood is presently in the midst of creating 2 more albums with Saunders at White Cat in Houston. Clearly, Cawood is a creative force to be reckoned with, and if her next 2 offerings are as solid as this first one, her fans and fans-to-be are in for a treat. Between the well-roundedness of her songwriting and the passion with which she delivers her unique blend of country, honky-tonk, blues, and folk, there is sure to be something for every music lover on either one—or both—of her next 2 releases. Look for a Kickstarter campaign that will soon be announced to assist with the production costs of her 3rd album and catch her at a live music venue near you sometime soon if you can. Never one to rest on her laurels, you’ll be glad if you do, but you’d better be quick. Cheryl Cawood is a busy lady—and she’s definitely going places. But for now, the Houston/Galveston world of music is a much better place, thanks to her and her boundless talent and energy. Go getcha some at cherylcawood.com!!