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Danielia Cotton shaping her own path

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STORY BY DAVID W. WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
“My producer suggested I do this type of album a long time ago, and I didn’t want to do it, but then I thought it actually wouldn’t be a bad idea at this point because we are in-between doing two original albums. We chose the songs for a very specific reason.” That’s how Danielia Cotton describes (“The Real Book”), her new album of covers she released Nov. 6. I spoke to her via phone the morning after as she was in a car transporting boxes of belongings from Brooklyn to her Woodstock home. “I’m a Brooklyn/Woodstock girl!” she said, temporarily interrupting our conversation to give directions to the driver. Cotton has survived thyroid cancer, a couple of miscarriages, and some other heartbreak along the way. The songs she recorded for the current album were a comfort to her in trying circumstances.
“Thyroid cancer, it is in complete remission. It’s cured. After the operation, I was able to go on tour eight weeks later. It was maybe too early for me to go back out, but we were able to do a lot of it,” reports Cotton. It doesn’t take long for Cotton to bring a conversation back around to positives. Also on the topic of health she recounts, “I am a marathon runner,” and she has been in the New York Marathon twice, plus the Vermont and New Jersey competitions. “It’s that whole endorphin thing,” she quips.
Cotton grew up as one of the few Black-Americans in a rural New Jersey farming area near Hopewell. She would sing upon a wood crate practicing microphone moves with a stick. Her mother had jazz and gospel singing credentials and song with six sisters. Later, Danielia Cotton would join that group at age 12 to get her first professional experience. Her brother was the rocker in the family. Cotton became the amalgam. Later, she would be formally musically educated at Bennington College in Vermont.


As lively and worldly as Cotton is, she was careful when selecting the songs for the album. “Each song had to be a story that we can relive and retell and be true to. We decided that if we couldn’t do it better and make it stand up to the original then it had to go. It doesn’t matter how good you are there are some songs you can’t live,” she freely admits. “We handpicked the musicians and we got them to stay for four days in Woodstock.” Not all of the songs on The Real Book are hits such as “Give Me Shelter” by the Rolling Stones, or “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers. “The Radio Head song is not a well-known one and Abbie Lincoln — you have to be jazz fan to know that one. For my nephew’s baptism I had to learn a Dixy Chicks song on ukulele, and we decided to use it for a cover of the Zombies song ‘This Will Be Our Year.’ ” Other major songs included are “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” by Eurhythmics, and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Cotton included some Woodstock sisters on the project, namely Amy Helm, Tracy Bonham and Rachel Yamagata.
As for her original material, she intends to have an album of self-penned numbers soon. Explaining the origins of her original music ideas she says it comes from, “Just life, what wants to come out of me — my body and soul. It’s a story I want to tell and can tell again and again. There’s no particular place—when the moment comes you find paper and pen. Sometimes you hit record on the phone and sing it.
It’s in live performance where you get the full power of Cotton’s delivery. She offers, “Where ever we perform we just do what we do. In a small club you can talk to them a little bit more, but other than that intimacy there’s no change. The quality should be exactly the same. I like a three-hundred seat venue with an audience that’s with you. Performing live is the best part because that is when you are really doing what you do. There’s nothing about the other aspects that appeal to me the same way.”
Cotton has opened for many great artists over the last 10 years, but, two stand out. She said “Greg Allman — every time he walked out he was great. And Robert Cray gave me the greatest advice. He said to never perform more than four days consecutively. He reminded me that though I have a powerful voice, not to come out swinging. Don’t start with a hundred mile pitch. Build it up through the show.”

IF YOU GO

What: Danielia Cotton with special guest Adam Kowalczyk
When: Concert is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23. Doors open at 7.
Where: Sellersville Theater, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.
Tickets: $19.50 and $29.50
Info.: Call (215) 257-5808 or check www.st94.com. More on Danielia Cotton at www.danieliacotton.com.

Complete song list for ‘The Real Book’
1. Eurhythmics – “Sweet Dreams” (feat. Rachael Yamagata)
2. Bruno Mars – “Gorilla”
3. The Rolling Stones – “Gimme Shelter” (feat. Amy Helm)
4. Stevie Wonder – “They Won’t Go When I Go”
5. Radiohead – “The Daily Mail” (feat. Tracy Bonham)
6. Bill Withers – “Hope She’ll Be Happier”
7. The Staple Singers – “Respect Yourself” (feat. Tracy Bonham)
8. Blind Faith – “Can’t Find My Way Home”
9. Abbey Lincoln – “Throw It Away”
10. Citizen Cope – “Sideways”
11. Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”
12. The Zombies – “This Will Be Our Year” (feat. Amy Helm)

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