CULTURE- BUZZBOX- Eli Cook: Delta dawns in this guy
One of the most entertaining things about seeing Eli Cook perform is watching a 20-year-old white dude from Nelson County turn into a 76-year-old black Delta bluesman with cirrhosis and a light sprinkling of Alzheimer's. The grit emanating from his throat has always suggested respiratory distress of the highest order.
But on his new CD, Electric Holy Fire Water, he's more apt to turn into... well, a young guitar phenom who came of age in the late '90s. Though Cook says he's never listened to them, his vocals bear more than a passing resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde's work with the Black Label Society (though thankfully he didn't duplicate the latter's inane songwriting). When he slows down, his double-tracked baritone recalls the 1998 one-and-a-half hit-wonder solo career of former House Of Pain frontman Everlast.
The vocals haven't strayed too far from what they were before, but bringing the guitars into the equation makes things infinitely more complicated. Longtime fans may be surprised to learn that Nelson County's finest champion of the blues, who made it to 18 without listening to a modern rock record, found his compositional inspiration in– of all things– grunge.
"It's part of trying to modernize that old sound," he shrugs.
And he has certainly done that. The crunch of the guitars recalls the DeLeo brothers, and when Cook spends 15 seconds hanging onto a two-fret hammer-on during a lead break, it's hard not to envision him channeling "Dirt"-era Jerry Cantrell. The occasional explosion against a thick backdrop of riffs is very Chris Cornell– in spirit, at least, if not in timbre.
But during the update, tradition took a dive: Cook is more likely to slam home a few power chords than to reach for a more highbrow turnaround. Bassist Eric Yates and drummer Jordan Marchini round out the power trio, but they sound like anything but. Marchini also plays with local hard rock goth band Bella Morte, if that tells you anything.
"There are a lot of places where he's playing speed metal– double bass pedals and so on," says Cook. "He's very suited to the challenges, and able to make whatever racket.
"The blues get stretched," he adds, explaining that his goal was "Stevie Ray Vaughan tone with Tom Morello's riffs."
How unfortunate, then, that of all the genres, the one with militant purists is definitely the blues.
"The conventional stuff was never really my cup of tea anyway," Cook says. "Plan 9 asked me, 'Where do you want us to put the disc?' I guess I'd rather put it in the rock section, just because it's easier to be considered a rock band and play blues than it is to be considered a blues band and come out and play rock."
Ultimately, it's their loss. But Cook is also continuing to explore more traditional paths, including a promising duo project with percussionist Darrell Rose.
"To be honest, I hope to actually make a more traditional blues thing next," he says. "This last CD took a year to do, it took a lot of work and a lot of time, whereas my acoustic record took two days– recorded it one day, mixed it the next day, didn't even really master it. I'd like to do the same thing with a full band blues record." That might satisfy the purists.
For a little while, at least. "Then after that we'll be back to the sacrilege," says Cook. "We'll keep 'em guessing, man."
Eli Cook at Uncle Charlie's January 27. $5, 9:15pm.