By Ali Kaufman
[D]anielia Cotton has overcome challenges that might have taken others down. Despite serious illness, divorce, the loss of her twins at their gestational age of five months, Cotton is not just surviving, she is thriving, and her new album, The Real Book, is the proof.
Cotton is many things: a singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist and she even plays the ukulele (learning bass is on the horizon). She’s African-American, Puerto Rican and Native American by blood, Jewish by choice and full of chutzpah (the one thing she is not, is legendary bluesman James Cotton’s daughter, as that famous last name has led many to believe). Much of Cotton’s genetic musical gifts and strength of character have come from her mom and aunts, with whom she sang in a gospel group as a child. Mom was also the person responsible for putting the first guitar in her daughter’s hands.
Now, Cotton has put her guitar skills, among others, to work on The Real Book. Recorded in Woodstock, NY at Applehead Recording in just a week’s time, the album is an eclectic mix of 12 covers produced by Kevin Salem, the same man that was there for her debut album. While these songs were originally done by others, Cotton’s interpretations come from a place of such authenticity that she makes each one her own—with assistance from some familiar friends, including Amy Helm, Tracy Bonham and Rachael Yamagata. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” sits just a few cuts away from Radiohead’s “The Daily Mail,” along with tunes from Bruno Mars and the Stones. Go big or go home? This album goes big and you will want to take it home.
As the breadth of her song choices suggests, there is nothing simple about this multifaceted woman. She proceeds seamlessly from lulling us with a soothing ballad to rocking us silly with her gritty growl. Throughout the album, Cotton, who runs marathons when not writing and performing music, digs deep to find what she needs to go the extra mile, no matter the genre—after all, marathons aren’t for sissies. Inspiration comes as one foot hits the ground in front of the other. Ears fill with sounds that become feelings that turn into thoughts and words. While an acting major in college, thoughts and words took a different form for Cotton. But, in terms of expressing herself, acting was not ultimately where she felt at home. Music is home; sharing is home; connecting with others is home.
Thus it’s no surprise to learn of her charitable work with kids via music programs. Growing up black in a white town, Cotton was not like everyone else and she knows just how to identify with kids who feel out of place. There is something special in being different, something that has served her well and will continue to do so as her journey progresses.