Sunday, April 30, 2017

Eli Cook ~~ Primitive Son

I’ve mentioned on several occasions how much I enjoy discovering a new artist or group. For purely selfish reasons, I’m always looking for great music and a story to share with you and our listeners. On a hot day, not terribly long ago, I made the acquaintance of a good bunch of guys who called themselves The Eli Cook Group that was headed by, who else, Eli Cook.
It was a warm sunny day and the good-sized audience had come to hear several bands that included Cook and company as the first of three headliners. I was familiar with the other two headliners, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos and Albert Castiglia, but for some reason Cook had escaped my blues radar.
Sad thing is, he’s only an hour or so up the road in a town I used to visit regularly, so I really don’t have any excuse.
And now that I’ve seen him, there will be no more excuses, because let me tell you, this cat can play a guitar! Their high-energy performance as the sun was starting to slip towards the horizon was a highlight of the festival for me. So much so, that as “thrifty” as I am, I ponied up my own money to pick up three of his six albums (he only brought three titles or I would have bought them all) to share with you.
The most recent release, Primitive Son, came out in 2014 on Cleopatra Records. Cook had some heavy hitters helping out on this album, and I’ll mention them when we get to their songs. Trust me, this is an all-star group of special guests that joined in the fun.
Cook wrote 13 of the album’s songs solo and co-wrote the remaining number with Greg Hampton. His core musicians include Rob Richmond on bass and Wade Warfield on drums. As a power trio, this group stands among the best in the business and with these special guests you’re going to hear, I think this just might be a great album.
It’s appropriate that the album kicks off with a strong guitar lead on the song War Horse. This track features just Cook, Richmond, and Hampton working hard. They have a punk rock approach in their intensity and the stripped down sound is very cool. Good beginning, I’m looking forward to what’s coming up.
The next song, Revelator features Vinny Appice who has played drums for some heavy hitters, including Black Sabbath, and Jorgan Carlsson who handles the bass for Gov’t Mule. As you might expect, this is blues with some heavy overtones. It’s a strong song with a good hook. It’s definitely modern blues, one more evolution and heads down its own branch on the blues tree.
Cook and company follow up with Sweet Thang, which features one of my favorite performers, Tinsley Ellis, adding some of his trademark guitar licks to the song. There is some soaring guitar work and Warfield’s drums get a real workout. So far, Cook has maintained a high level of energy in his approach, and if you are looking for acoustic, Delta style blues, this is probably not going to do it for you. But, if you like your blues honed to a sharp edge, this is one to check out.
More guests show up on High In The Morning; Sonny Landreth lays down some wicked slide guitar and Reese Wynans plays the B3. Cook’s vocals are a driving growl but you can still hear some gospel roots there. Very cool song.
Cook and Warfield are the only two performers on Won’t Be Long. This is a more traditional blues tune that opens softly with a touch of swamp in the guitar. Cook proves that he can handle various styles of blues and he does so here with grace and beauty.
The amazing guitarist Leslie West guests on Motor Queen. West, who is known for his hard rock and blues adds his style to the number. Cook and company pick up the tempo and drive and deliver a solid blues rock song.
One of my favorite harpists, Rod Piazza, lends his skills on the instrument to Be Your Fool. It starts out as a power trio anthem with a heavy rock influence. Piazza’s harp work stays in the background for the most part until it’s time to bust out a run.
Swing A Little Harder is another song that features only Cook and Warfield. It’s more old-school than most of the other songs, but still experiments with the sound. Considering that Cook is a curious student of music, I expect and respect his experimentations. They become signposts for his art. Some succeed more than others, but I enjoy what he’s doing.
I’ve been a fan of Harvey Mandel and his guitar work ever since he recorded Stand Back with Charlie Musselwhite. Having him play on the next song, Shake The Devil Down, adds even more luster to the album. This is a very cool song that showcases some of Cook’s best vocals and you can count on hearing it on Time For The Blues on an upcoming show.
Tall & Twisted is the Eli Cook Band doing some more traditional blues. Cook’s steel guitar has a nice sound and he still manages to keep an edge on his vocals. It’s a good interlude after some of his more hard rock oriented numbers.
The next song features the hard rocking bluesman, Pat Travers on guitar and former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle. As you might expect, The Great Southern Love Kill starts off on a blistering pace. It’s another song that can be classified as hard rock.
With a title like Amphetamine Saint, I wasn’t expecting a quiet introspective number, however I was pleasantly surprised by the song. It has a lot of swamp blues in it, and Cook’s vocals seemed strained as if he’s trying to create the atmosphere of someone who as at the end of their dreams. Eric Gales adds his guitar to the mix. Very cool song…
He’s saved the title track, Primitive Son, until the album is near its end. It’s the trio working and they are very tight. These appear to be some of the most personal lyrics on the album, along with the previous song.
The final song on the album, Burying Ground, is just Cook and Warfield one more time. There’s a quiet finality to the song, a dirge of sorts, which just goes with the lyrics. These sacred grounds honor those who have passed before whether real or metaphorically, and afterwards our new lives have to begin. Powerful number, very powerful.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Cook by seeing him live. I found him to be an entertaining and energetic performer backed by two very good musicians. Their playing energized the crowd and the band poured every ounce of its enthusiasm into each song.
Following up with this album later on, I can see that Cook is one talented singer songwriter who is still exploring for new ways to express his thoughts. I’ve always been drawn to artists who continually question and experiment with new ideas. This album might not be for the blues purists, but I liked it very much and look forward to more.  
If you like your blues with a rock edge, this just might be the guy for you. Check out his website at and be sure to look to see where The Eli Cook Band will be playing near you. It’s worth the extra effort to catch them live. I know I’ll be back to see them again.

(Photo of Eli Cook by Alan Grossman. He's a pretty damn good photographer, you should check out his work. Used by permission.)

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