Every so often the body of a young Caucasian is inhabited by the voice of an old African-American. Recently a British, teenage Joss Stone astounded the world with her soul-pipes. Over the years we have been treated to a pubescent Johnny Lang channeling Buddy Guy, and of course, the original event: a 1962 Newport Folk Festival marveling at wet-behind-the-ears John Hammond's mastery of country blues, a formerly Black-dominated idiom. The latest addition to this pantheon of contradiction is the dark, husky singing of Eli Cook, coming out of a mouth set in the long-blonde-hair-hidden face of a twenty year old singer/guitarist from Nelson County, Virginia.
Upon hearing Miss Blues'es Child I felt that familiar, exhilarating rush of a new discovery--someone with the potential for greatness. The voice alone is not enough; Cook could easily find himself in danger of criticism as a "black-face" or minstrel act, a cross Hammond too had to bear. What saves the young bluesman is a sense of not just an honest love for the music, but a true understanding of the Blues as a living breathing thing and not merely a museum piece. Before launching into the title track, he states, "This is Miss Blues'es Child remix number one." This is followed by a brief electronic chopping and reversing of the track ala any contemporary electronica artist, before launching into a thoroughly traditional reading of Cook's classic-sounding original. For Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues," the young guitarist combines electric and acoustic axes, accompanied by only a tambourine, for a sound simultaneously old and fresh. If his guitar work on his composition, "Highway Song," sounds influenced as much by Jimmy Page as by Mississippi John Hurt, it is to his credit, as he forges the personal style that separates artists from archivists. His songs already stand solidly up against classics like Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do" and Bukka (mis-named Booker on the sleeve) White's "Fixin' To Die," while the occasional addition of banjo and twelve-string add interest to the proceedings in general.
Eli Cook is a true find. And if his reach sometimes exceeds his grasp (his overwrought, pitchy, a capella take on Son House's "Grinnin' In Your Face"), well, he is young. He can write lines like, "I have rambled, Lord, I have sailed the seven seas"--now all he has to do is go out and live them.