With that kind of supporting talent, it would be hard to strike out, and Friedman doesn't. A dark, grainy romanticism saturates the 10 tracks on Cool; at his best, Friedman brings to mind bookish country/folk artists such as Bob Neuwirth, Lucinda Williams and Kris Kristofferson. He's as likely to name-check Homer or J.D. Salinger as Merle Haggard or Son House, and he shifts from talking about Jesus ("that hippie boy who danced in Galilee") to reminiscing about his own adolescence ("cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway full of beer and ecstasy") in the space of a single song. Friedman isn't a very good singer from a technical standpoint -- his high, tentative rasp flutters around the key like an exhausted moth -- but it's hard to imagine a better vehicle for these rough and luminous story/songs than his weathered near-whisper.