by Bea Willis
Guitarist and vocalist Eli Cook has been wowing audiences since the age of fifteen when he turned professional and by eighteen he was opening for B.B. King. Cook went on to release six albums before his 30th birthday and has earned the reputation as being one of the best blues singers of his generation. Cook has released High-Dollar Gospel (C.R.8 Records), which contains eight originals and two well interpreted covers. The eleven tracks are produced by Cook, and engineered, recorded, and mixed by Zach Samel with personnel of Nathan Brown on drums, Peter Spaar on upright bass and Cook on all the string instruments, including among others: acoustic guitar, 12-string guitar, electric guitar and mainly his resophonic guitar. He cites his main influences came from the work of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Soundgarden, and Rage Against the Machine.
The opening track, “Trouble Maker” features Cook on the resophonic guitar with a slide and his big growling vocals. Cook continues to deliver outstanding melodies and catchy choruses that are undeniably blues, but at the same time, something quite unique. His slide guitar solo is full of feeling and idiomatic figures. There is a certain Southern church feel all up in this thang, especially in the catchy driven feel.
Cook shows off his electric chops on “Pray for Rain.” With a sound that might remind some of Robin Trower, the slow groove gives us a chance to really savor Cook’s electric fret work. His voice is colorful and strong, even in his upper register. The lyrics are full of stories and passion. Cook’s guitar solo uses a lot of slow bends that resonate to the very last second to nail the pitch, as if he is milking every ounce of feeling out of the bend and it comes across in the music.
“The Devil Finds Work” is a terrific example of Cook’s slide work and witty lyrics. The chorus will have you singing it for hours after the track ends. Cook’s deep-throated, gravelly vocals are a joy to listen to and he has a mix of blues and grunge, adding to the beguiling allure of the performances. We are reminded of how Howlin’ Wolf would change the entire timbre of a song, once his vocal began. The picking and slide work is a glimpse of what Cook does as a solo artist, which he often does three-quarters of his shows as solo performances.
The musicianship and creative spin on the long-honored blues tradition is remarkable on High Dollar Gospel. Pulling straight from the southern hot steamy summers of long church choir anniversaries, because well all know back in the day, the same musicians playing all night at the juke joint went straight to church on Sunday and just kept on keepin’ on! So, we say to Cook, “keep takin’ it brother!”
Tracks to sample first: “Trouble Maker,” “The Devil Finds Work,” “Pray For Rain” and “King of the Mountain.” The song to take a chance on is Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Lose What You Never Had.”