Eli Cook's music is imbued with the influences of the great blues pioneers, such as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House, and Lightnin ' Hopkins. But don’t expectf this guy from Virginia to play low-key acoustic purist retrostuff. On the contrary, some tracks will blow you over played at full throttle: "Snake Charm" goes far beyond blues rock, borders on metalblues, and Eli, with his power trio behind him. sounds rather like Rage Against The Machine.
Seven years ago, as early as the age of 18, Eli had already released his first cd "Moonshine Mojo" which consisted of a mix of covers of blues classics and his own work . Ace, Jack, & King, his fifth release, mirrors the same composition with two covers of Skip James and even a cover of Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog." The cd opens and ends with two different versions of Cook’s own "Death Rattle". The first version, a rugged, barren rendition, would be taken for a field holler recorded by Alan Lomax during his trips to American cotton plantations were it not for the ripping harmonica in the background and the reverberant drums. The second version of the same song, at the end of the cd, resembles something you would expect on a live recording of Led Zeppellin in the early 1970s.
Eli’s voice is not what you expect from a 25-year-old. It is full of grit, warm and powerful, and nowhere sounds forced. One of my favorite tracks, "Driftin", is a cover of West Coast blues pianist Charles Brown’s best known song. Eli's arrangement is wonderful and a far cry from the original version, with sharp slide passages and lingering percussion. The song with the most traditional approach is the Western swing "Cocaine", primarily known from Jackson Browne's recording. Here, it sounds as though it is an old 78 made many years ago.
There’s no tedium listening to this cd. Following “Cocaine Blues” is the traditional “Crow Jane”, the second Skip James cover, in a very contemporary arrangement and production. With plenty of fuzz and distortion, it’s 100% Blues 2011. Finally, Nick Drake’s "Black Dog" deserves admiration. The fragility of the original stays beautiful preserved, while Eli’s powerful guitar playing draws the blues content of the song forth.
In short, Eli Cook has arrived with "Ace, Jack & King". He has fulfilled the promise shown in his previous releases, and claimed his place amongst those who give us the reassuring certainty that the future of blues is safe.