Eli Cook - Ace, Jack & King
14 Tracks, 49:34
Eli Cook is a young blues artist from Charlottesville, VA. He has developed quite a following in the last few years and has steady gigs in and around Washington, DC. The rest of the country, indeed, the world, is now getting the word of his talent. All Music Guide has called him the best blues singer of his generation and Guitar Edge Magazine has called him a blues legend in the making. Extraordinary claims for sure, but not without merit. His guitar playing is powerful and his voice is mature beyond his years. Eli has taken all the praise in stride, remaining dedicated to his craft and melding his influences into a unique musical vision.
Ace, Jack, & King is Eli Cook s fifth album since his 2004 debut Moonshine Mojo. He incorporates and embodies all of his influences, creating a superb concoction of post-grunge blues. Beyond his parents collection of old blues records, Eli grew up listening to the sounds of the Seattle-based grunge revolution and his blues bear a striking resemblance to the music of Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and their followers like Days Of The New. He combines the Delta blues of Son House and Charlie Patton with the blues of Generation X. The jobs are gone, the mules are dead, and the Company Store is closed. These blues are for the disillusioned, disenfranchised youth whose future has been bought and sold by the Company, never to be seen again.
Blues purists might be dismayed by the grunge references, and Eli Cook s vision may seem strange in print, but on record it makes total sense. He sublimely melds Skip James with Layne Staley in a fresh, compelling manner that transcends classification. The amplified acoustic guitars emit unnatural harmonics and make the tracks seem to emanate from the Netherworld. Cook occasionally plays the acoustics sans amplification but his deep voice and Seattle grunge style of singing never allow the menace to be far away. Even a marginally peppy, eminently catchy song like Draggin My Dogs never sounds happy.
Opening the album, the Death Rattle shakes the strings of an amplified acoustic guitar, gritty and grim as though the Reaper himself has laid his pocket-scythe across the strings to affect a soundtrack for the last moment of your life. If you escape the Reaper and make to the end of the album, Eli riffs on one of his heroes – Jimi Hendrix – by reprising the song in full electric regalia as Death Rattle (Slight Return). Catfish Blues is finger picked in a rolling style that takes the listener on a dusty country road to a watering hole in an arid landscape bereft of forgiveness and unimpressed by your pleas.
Better Man is a layered stomp with strummed acoustic guitars enforcing the beat, mildly distorted slide guitar lines that sounds eerily like harmonica and shimmering slide chords that sound like the wind rustling through the trees. Afrossippi Breakdown is a haunting solo acoustic piece featuring delicate finger-picking, and Elis voice has a richness that amplifies the emotions of the song to nearly unbearable levels. Skip James Crow Jane borders on being over-done, with so many versions of it already in existence but James himself would barely recognize Eli Cooks rendition. The leaden drums and thick wall of guitars work hard to hold back the surging harp. This arrangement owes much to Led Zeppelin s rendition of When The Levee Breaks but Eli makes it all his own. It is electrified Delta blues for the 21st century.
Ace, Jack & King proves that Eli Cook has a musical vision that is close to fruition. His albums to date have been occasionally unfocused as Cook learned as he went, trying ideas, songs, styles, and instrumentation. Here he offers an even balance of originals and covers, with his originals melding perfectly with the old gems. The tracks are layered and conversely stripped to the bone when necessary. His voice is intense and nuanced and his guitar playing is exquisite. The album is full of cohesive choices, great performances, and excellent songs. Ace, Jack & King pans the stream of consciousness of the first four albums and comes up with musical gold.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com/.