Who the hell is Eli Cook, and why haven’t I come across him before? The 31-year-old from Virginia has released six albums before High Dollar Gospel, fer chrissake, and if this is anything to go by his earlier efforts also deserve examination. If Jimmy Page had said to Paul Rodgers when they got together to form The Firm that they were going to make an acoustic blues album in the manner of “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper,” it might have sounded like this. Maybe.
Cook majors on playing resonator and 12-string acoustic guitar, though photographs suggest he’s also ready to strap on an electric guitar when the fancy takes him. He’s also possessed of a versatile blues voice, manifesting itself as a hoarse rasp on the swinging, upbeat opener “Trouble Maker” and the following “The Devil Finds Work,” which progresses from a slow opening to rattle along in a style that hints at North Mississippi Allstars.
But Cook then shifts gear into a run of slower, atmospheric songs, kicking off with “Mixing My Medicine” on which restrained, picked guitar lines are backed by sparse, shimmering, effects-laden electrified chords and background humming, while Cook contributes a smoky vocal that brings to mind the late Jimmy Dewar. He repeats that vocal tone on the following “Pray For Rain,” where some clear-toned electric licks towards the end also suggest a Robin Trower influence.
The middle of the album shows more variety, including the lullaby-like “Mother’s Prayer,” which features spangly guitar and a deeper, vocal, and a reflective reading of the old blues standard “44 Blues.” Contrastingly the laid back “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” has a lilting feel and emotional warmth that recalls Steve Earle. Then to close, “Month Of Sundays” and “If Not For You” evoke the British bluesman Ian Siegal, especially the latter with its pinging chords and clever melody.
High Dollar Gospel may not be perfect – it could do with another uptempo number to give it better balance, and as good as Cook’s acoustic guitar is on “44 Blues” it pales in comparison with the classic Howlin’ Wolf version. But this is as modern and refreshing a take on acoustic country blues as you could hope for, and compelling with it.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Trouble Maker
– The Devil Finds Work
– Mixing My Medicine
– I’ll Be Your Baby TOnight
– If Not For You
The Big Hit
– Mixing My Medicine
Review by Iain Cameron