C.R.8. Records – 2017
11 tracks; 47 minutes
Raised in rural Virginia, Eli Cook started playing guitar early, opening for BB King at 18. Still relatively young, High Dollar Gospel is his seventh CD, with a title intended to evoke images of the south. Eli is on vocals, guitar, mandolin, banjo, lap-steel and electric bass, with Peter Spaar on double bass and Nathan Brown on drums. Eli wrote eight of the songs here with three covers from diverse sources.
The opening track “Trouble Maker” has a raucous rhythm section behind Eli’s slide work and offers a first introduction to his voice. Some singers are described as sounding like they gargle with razor blades; Eli sounds like that plus a serious tobacco habit! “The Devil Finds Work” finds Eli in country blues mood with the band joining in on a sweeping chorus and “Mixing My Medicine” takes things down a notch as Eli plays some gentle acoustic with echoey electric guitar and sound effects that would not be out of place on an early Pink Floyd record. The lyrics sound ominous: “Well you’ve been mixing my medicine, now I know my time ain’t long”. The sound effects continue on “Pray For Rain” with Eli also playing some solid electric over some strangely off-beat drumming. “King Of The Mountain” has a moody feel with plenty of slide from Eli and the gentle “Mother’s Prayer” is sung in a really deep voice although the sense of the lyrics of both songs eluded this reviewer! “Month Of Sundays” has some great picking and “If Not For You” (not the Dylan song) starts with a riff that could be from The Stones, albeit played on acoustic, making it probably the most accessible original song in the set.
Eli takes a slow, stripped-down approach to the three covers: Muddy’s classic “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” works well though the howling guitar effects in the background outstay their welcome; Roosevelt Sykes’ “44 Blues” works very well as a country blues that Eli plays solo on slide with what sounds like a foot stomp; Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” was always a country tune and works OK in this quieter format.
A difficult album to summarize. Eli is clearly a talented player but the songs failed to move this reviewer though hopefully they will appeal more to other ears.