During his lifetime, Ted Hawkins mostly worked in anonymity here at home, and gained only an inkling of fame overseas. A street performer in Venice Beach Cal., he recorded only infrequently (the bulk of his recorded catalogue consisted of live recordings), but his reputation still managed to attract a knowing few, indicating solid credence as a songwriter whose work was worthy of wider recognition. This isn't the first time the musical elite took up his cause, but in these interpretations of select songs, it's easily the best representation of his work thus far.
Indeed, an impressive roster makes "Cold Bitter Tears" a tribute album worthy of note for the uninitiated and a must-have acquisition for those in the know. While Hawkins' penchant for the blues is the foundation of his sound and style, the diversity of his approach is brought to the fore with James McMurtry's remorseful take on "Big Things," Bill and Kasey Chambers' homespun treatment of the title track and Jon Dee Graham's slow saunter on "Strange Conversation."
Clearly, Hawkins was more an Americana artist than he was given credit for; when he died in 1995, the term had just begun to become a term that was used in the popular idiom. On a song like "Whole Lotta Women," his singular influence clearly seems to be The Band, while "Bring It On Home Daddy" liberally borrows the "nah na na nana nah" from their song "The Weight." Of course, this could be chalked up to interpretation and not necessarily Hawkins' intent, but the fact that these rootsy sounds are spawned through this song selection says quite a bit about Hawkins' obvious inspiration.
Like most stellar tributes, "Cold Bitter Tears" is as much a showcase for the participating artists as it is a belated bow to an artist whose fame was fleeting at best.