A name like Thad Cockrell does not suggest, oh, a starchy New York City financier, a burly Texas oilfield roustabout or even a fey San Fran choreographer. Well, he could be a dusty chap or cowpoke from down around Yuma way, but that's not the point.
No, when Ma and Pops Cockrell squinted at their little bundle o' dreams in the hospital some 29 years ago and dubbed him Thad, there's no doubt they were thinking, "This pup's gonna grow up to be a musical prodigy specializing in the folk-country-roots Americana genre. Let's give him a solid Southern name that'll reflect that." Well, that's not quite the case since, according to a recent profile on Cockrell in No Depression, the Carolina-based singer-songwriter grew up the son of a Baptist minister and was barely allowed to listen to popular music as a kid. There's even a chance that some day in the near future Cockrell may put his current career plans on hold and follow in his father's footsteps; presently he splits time between performing in regional clubs and completing his studies at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Of course, twin callings are nothing new in music (just ask Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard). In Cockrell's case, there's even an old-time gospel tune, an original composition, closing out his debut album. A nice and telling touch, "He Set Me Free" is mostly unadorned, save acoustic guitar, fiddle, and a sweet harmony vocal from former Whiskeytowner Caitlin Cary, who perfectly complements Cockrell's high, lonesome tenor. Prior to that come eight equally compelling tunes, from the Dwight Yoakam-flavored western swing of "Hard Time Takin' This Heartbreakin'" and the straight-up Gram Parsons country of "Why?" to the mournful pedal-steel driven "Together Again" (Cary again on harmonies) and the gentle honky-tonkin' "Pretending."
And while it may seem undue and premature hype to toss out critical clichés such as "welcome the arrival of a major new talent," there's a pretty good chance Cockrell is going to live up to that parental fantasy scenario outlined above. As produced by North Carolina music veteran Chris Stamey and with alumni from Whiskeytown, the Two Dollar Pistols and the Chickenwire Gang making up his Starlite Country Band, Cockrell has crafted an utterly memorable debut. "I've always loved the twang of hurt," Cockrell advises in his bio, and that just about says it all.