FACETIME- Eli's cooking: Teen blues sensation turns 20

Blues aficionados know that authenticity doesn't always translate to record sales. Sometimes, it seems to take a John Mayer vanity project to get people to pay attention.

To some extent, however, Eli Cook can walk the line between popularity and tradition. Miss Blues' Child, released in December, had Cook paying homage to traditional blues with little more than an acoustic guitar. "I was in between backing musicians," he explains.

For Cook, traditional doesn't have to mean predictable. "By no means is it all twelve-bar," he says. "I avoided a lot of twelve bar blues and went straight for the old-school, one-chord, stuff. That's actually some of my favorite stuff, the eerie dark stuff by R.L. Burnside and Fred MacDowell– not so much the white blues."

Having paid his respects to tradition, Cook is ready to make a statement. He says his follow-up disc, to be released later this summer, will be decidedly more progressive.

"Blues is what I love playing, but eventually any artist wants to try to create something new and original," says Cook. "I'm trying to combine the vibe and the sound of the songs on Miss Blues' Child– which are really old and introspective, really nitty gritty blues– with more modern, heavy instrumentation. There's a big influence of early '90s hard rock on the guitar work, although the vocals and the lyrics are all really straight blues."

Manager Chas Webster is excited. "It's some of the most amazing guitar work I've ever seen from somebody that age. Not to mention the spiritual presence the kid exudes onstage."

These days, in between gigs with the electric band, Eli still does occasional solo gigs at Atomic Burrito or Rapunzel's Coffee and Books in Lovingston. But even those shows smack of sweet, tasty sacrilege: "My version of an acoustic show is running through a distortion pedal and into an amp, so who knows," he sighs.

Whether a soloist or with the Red House Blues Band, Cook isn't yet sure what to call his project– and since he just turned 20, that's entirely forgivable.

"If I can't come up with a killer band name, then it's just going to be the Eli Cook Band," he says, clearly disappointed. "I don't have a cool last name like 'Van Halen.'"

Got an idea? Drop it in the guestbook at elicook.com But hurry up– if the suggestion's any good, he may get a new name for the site.

Eli Cook