Formerly known as the Cotton Jones Basket Ride, singer-songwriter Michael Nau released music he made with Whitney McGraw as “Cotton Jones” for several years. One of the best releases among the many great albums Nau has produced over his career is the 2009 Cotton Jones album “Paranoid Cocoon” — a set of beautifully harmonized folk tunes with cohesive themes and haunting atmospherics.
The duo of Nau and McGraw is the foundation upon which this album was thoughtfully built upon. The lyrics of this album stick in your mind for years because they are delivered with such memorable ease and create such effortless listening. The songs are hypnotizing in the way they are neatly crafted together by the delicate dynamics of the unified male and female voices within their surreal arrangements.
Mixing elements of folk, soft rock psychedelia and the authenticity of old-school singer-songwriter county roots, Cotton Jones created an album of catchy songs that have true depth. It’s the sort of record that grows on you more with each listen as you discover deeper meanings, clever motifs and little production flourishes that meld the whole project into a soulful and heart-warming piece of art.
I had never heard of Nau’s previous band Page France. What I heard first was the Cotton Jones song “Gotta Cheer Up” and I was instantly hooked. The song embeds the refrain “you gotta cheer up now, you gotta cheer up now, you gotta cheer up now” like a permanent mantra into the listener’s mind, then finishes the spell casting process with the backwards drums and ghostly vocals at the end of the song.
I was delighted to find that all songs on “Paranoid Cocoon” are instantly unforgettable. The album has a dreamy flow to it, moving seamlessly from song to song and evoking a wide range of emotions. Each track has its own vibe but every song is wrapped in the same warm psychedelic haze that makes you want to listen to the whole thing from top to finish time and again.
The way the sweet organ notes and soft jangling guitars seem to share the same swirling reverberation space while they weave around each other to best showcase the vocals is truly mesmerizing. “Gotta Cheer Up” is especially catchy, but there are moments in each song that seem almost familiar they are so striking. The full band accompaniments provide considerate instrumentation that create perfect-pocketed grooves for the immaculate teamwork of Nau and McGraw.
“Paranoid Cocoon” begins with “Up A Tree (Went This Heart I Have)” — introducing the playful yet thoughtful dynamics of the album before going into “Gotta Cheer Up” and hooking the listener in for good. “Some Strange Rain” might be my favorite song on the album, with it’s dreamy-dreary vibe and remarkably gorgeous guitar work. The inviting sounds Cotton Jones offer throughout the album seem like they could be the soundscapes of half-forgotten dreams or memories.
“Blood Red Sentimental Blues” is a song that immediately nestles into your heart for permanent residency. Garnering Cotton Jones some attention for its use in an online Urban Outfitters mix, “Blood Red Sentimental Blues” prove the group produce songs that truly astound in their beautiful sounds and profound lyrics. “Gone The Bells,” “I Am The Changer” and “Cotton & Velvet” prove “Paranoid Cocoon” is worthy of “classic album” status thanks to Cotton Jones’ impressive consistency.
Every song has so many good lines and sweet harmonies; this album could easily reduce an emotive listener to tears. Concepts of changing, rearranging one’s life and identity, growing in an indifferent world, and going down dark alleyways to come out with “a mouth all full of stars” make “Paranoid Cocoon” a soul-searching opus of sorts. With Nau and McGraw at the helm of the album, their voices harmonize together as one but they also diverge to offer multiple perspectives.
The album is potentially most appealing because it is so cohesive. Just as there is comfort, wondering, loss and wandering on “Paranoid Cocoon” there’s also lots of introspective bits of wisdom. Lyrics like “The poet barks/ Mouth full of stars/ Says you better find someone/ Before it’s too dark” echo sage-like notions of love, loneliness and the confounding nature of being alive.
But Nau and McGraw hold each other up, making their deep music feel lighter than air. Cotton Jones offer catharsis for any mood, as “Paranoid Cocoon” can truly be listened to on any type of day.
What Cotton Jones convey through this album is that no matter how you’re feeling, just relish the fact that you’re feeling.
“I just thought I’d tell you/ All the demons have been slain/ For you’ll only be as big as what you do / Over blood red sentimental blues.”
You can purchase “Paranoid Cocoon” by Cotton Jones on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2zQ3FLd
“Some Strange Rain” — “Gotta Cheer Up” — “Blood Red Sentimental Blues” — “Gone The Bells” — “Cotton & Velvet” — “I Am The Changer”
Genres: folk, psychedelic, indie, pop, alternative country, rock
Influences: Wilco, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan
Article by Adam Fitzgerald.