As music evolves and grows, it sometimes
hits roadblocks. That has been a problem
in the past with the blues. Eli Cook’s latest
album takes a stab at helping the music
evolve. It’s not an earth-shatering turn by
any means. Any fan of the blues will recognize
the patterns and the structures of the songs.
But, at 25, Cook has been influenced enough
by bands like Metallica and Rage Against the
Machine to let a little bit of that seep in.
Most of the songs on Ace, Jack & King are
trio tunes that appear simple but have some
complex, layered guitar parts. From the feedback-driven guitar that opens “Death Rattle” to the
overdriven harp that kicks off shortly after, it’s easy to see this isn’t your father’s blues. But
the heavy back beat and menacing guitar are firmly in the blues pocket. When the song is reprised as the last song on the disc, it takes on a more sinister tone with metal-esque guitars and the only straight rock solo on the record. In between, Cook shows in original tunes like the acoustic “Better Man,” with its descending chord pattern and slinky slide, and “Draggin’ My Dogs,” a bouncy folk-blues with more slide and even mandolins, that he understands the idiom inside and out. “Snake Charm” is the kind of tune that helps put the evelution in plain sight. A throaty Coval matches the crunchy guitars that lean as much toward metal as they do blues. A harp solo and some wah-wah added to Cook’s guitar solo tie the whole thing together.
His choice of covers is pretty standard, but the way he dilivers them is not. The Charles Brown classic “Driftin'” gets a pounding Chicago makeover with great slide and harp. An old-timey “Cocaine Blues” lets him show his finger-picking abilities, helped by a “telephone” effect on his vocal. Skip James’ “Crowjane” starts with a wildly distored guitar sound and moves onto a heavy feel with guitar and harp that James never could have envisioned.
Artists often talk about the blues as a living and growing thing and not just a style of music fit for museums. Cook puts that theory into practice and moves things forward.–John Heidt