Eli Cook is surely not the first blues singer to evoke legends past and present in his respected genre, but he’s probably one of the few to be guided by a genuine pull of authentic American music. Coming from Albemarle County in Virginia at the Foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Cook grew up listening to the blues, country, classic rock and alternative rock. He grew up with no TV and radio shows like Prairie Home Companion were his Saturday night entertainment. Quite a story for sure, but Cook’s righteous vocals and anthemic guitar work, proves this 31-year-old can play with the best.
Glide is premiering in full, Cook’s seventh album High Dollar Gospel below (out August 18th) which showcases Cook as one of the most fervently emotive singers around anywhere. There are not many artists that can evoke a listener to ask “who is this?” upon first words of a first listen, but Cook seamlessly nails that offering.
Eli Cook explains his album title as “I was brainstorming ideas that would evoke the imagery of the American South. The phrase ‘high-dollar’ is an old one, and ‘gospel’ is the Southern church music that brought us Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and countless other iconic musicians. The two phrases together can have several connotations, but the one I think of is the feeling of disillusionment that seems to be more and more pervasive. I think a lot of young people feel a sense of apathy and a loss in direction, generally speaking. People need inspiration, and it seems like that is becoming harder to come by.”
Produced by Eli Cook at Full Moon Recording Studios in VA, High-Dollar Gospel opens up with a slow bang with “Trouble Maker” – taunting and questioning his muse to join him. Acoustic picking and slide drive the classic hoedown backs the cautionary tale “The Devil Finds Work.” The haunting “Mixing My Medicine” contains the cavernous sound of a detuned custom 12-string guitar; an instrument played famously by Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell. Cook slows down Muddy Waters’ melancholy “Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had” into a terrifying, heart of darkness lament, his voice reaching a bottomless depth of sorrow. The orchestral 12-string guitar underscores the metaphoric boast of “King Of The Mountain” that shows off Eli’s huge growl of a voice with its anthem-like chorus is a showstopper. Check out our interview with Cook below to find out more about his unique offering of blues dosed with poignant hard rock.
Congratulations on your new LP High Dollar Gospel. This being your seventh album, where do you see this album as a progression and musical step stone in your discography? Is there anything on this LP that is most definitive of anything you’ve done so far?
This Record is definitely the best recorded and mixed of all my projects. We took a lot of time in making sure we got all the right sounds and it stayed organic, but also polished. I feel like the song writing is becoming easier and has more authenticity now than ever, which is nice. With this record, I felt it was important to keep the blues roots obvious, but push the writing style in a more contemporary direction with some more noticeable country and traditional old time influence. I feel that the song “Trouble Maker” is one of the standout tracks that displays what might be considered “my sound”. It’s heavy with a grunge rock flavor while still very American roots/blues based.
The album titled evokes the imagery of the American South, but at same time play into feeling of disillusionment for the younger generation. Were the songs influenced by the current state of affairs in the world or anything else?
The subject material of all the songs was not thematically based around the album title. But the overall vibe is in keeping with the sentiment that the title carries. Songs like “Pray for Rain”, “Mother’s Prayer”, “Mixing my Medicine”, and “King of the Mountain” carry a lot of existential angst, for example. But I didn’t want the record to get weighed down with too much dark material, so there are a few “reprieve” pieces.
From your own music and on the album, which ones do you see as most in the folk vein to give some meaningful lyrics for a listener to abide by?
“If Not for You” is definitely the most folky tune, lyrically and otherwise. Upbeat songs have never come naturally to me, but this one happened to, quite easily, and recording it with a mandolin as the primary instrument seemed to bring out that more joyful, mountain music kind of thing.
Although your firmly competent and grounded in the blues, what other styles do you feel comfortable presenting and making your own and as a guitarist where do you still feel you can take the instrument musically that you haven’t gone yet?
I have always been a huge fan of country guitar players and lap steel. I’m adapting more and more of that influence into my playing with chicken pickin’, bending and slide guitar technique. The next record will definitely have more of that. Pete Anderson, Scotty Moore, Chet Atkins, and Marty Stuart have always been big influences.
Any thoughts on touring with a full band or not? Why stay solo and is there anything you miss about having a band and touring with them?
I much prefer performing with a band than as a solo artist. The dynamic range and possibilities with live situational improvisation are an absolute joy. Unfortunately, the economics of touring a band vs solo dictate that for the most part, touring solo is the only real option, at least for now.
I find it interesting that the blues seems to summon stellar chops out of many younger guitarists, yourself included. Being that it speaks from the soul and years of living, why do you feel certain younger musicians develop such an inkling?
The Blues genre had the first “guitar hero’s”. Buddy Guy, BB King, then Clapton, Stevie Ray, etc. And it continues to be a heavily promoted aspect of that genre. Whereas in country music the songwriting is a larger focus, or bluegrass where the band must be super tight and everyone needs to be able to sing harmonies, etc. That is why so many young aspiring guitar players are drawn to the Blues genre.
Since you are a fan of Soundgarden, do you have any thoughts on Chris Cornell’s recent passing?
The loss of Chris Cornell hit me pretty seriously. I would say that his work and musical development inspired me more than anyone other than Jimi Hendrix. “Band of Gypsys” made me want to learn how to play lead guitar, and “Superunkown” and the first Audioslave album made me want to be a better song writer and vocalist. There will never be another like him.
And finally what would Eli Cook consider his ten “desert island” albums?
Kind of Blue-Miles Davis
Band of Gypsys- Jimi Hendrix
No. 4– Stone temple Pilots
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers– Frank Sinatra
Livewire– Albert King
Today!– Mississippi John Hurt
Cosmo’s Factory– Credence Clearwater Revival
Wicked Grin– John P. Hammond (all Tom Waits covers)
Billie Holiday’s Greatest Hits– Billie Holiday