Eli Cook’s seventh album, High-Dollar Gospel, is an Americana-style showcase of sounds, instrumentation, and varied tunings played on an interesting mix of guitars – a National tricone, a Rockbridge SJ 12-string, Washburn 12-string modified for slide, and a reissue Strat.
The gravel-voiced Cook has been compared to singers like Leon Redbone, but more often to grungers Eddie Vedder and the late Chris Cornell. At 18, he opened for B.B. King and, before turning 30, had recorded six albums. A big fan of resonators in a band environment, his fingerpicking is influenced by Chet Atkins and Doc Watson.
“It’s great for group arrangements,” he said. “It’s louder and more aggressive than a flat-top. It can take some getting used to, but it’s capable of great sustain and expressive harmonic content because it has that spike in the midrange.”
Cook employed other instruments to create ethereal embellishment, including a Fender lap steel for tremolo sounds on “Mixing My Medicine” and a Les Paul Custom for the quasi-feedback volume swells in a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Lose What You Never Had.”
“The most powerful music creates a sonic realm,” Cook said. “U2’s Joshua Tree, Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams, and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand are all fine examples. That’s one of the privileges of studio production, and I like to use it to create a specific atmosphere and evoke a certain feeling through instrumentation, then capitalize with lyrics and vocals – set a scene or mood, then deliver the soliloquy. Sinatra had an orchestra to achieve that; I have Pro Tools and a pedalboard.”
On the disc’s hardest-rocking song, “Pray for Rain,” Cook used only his Strat, which has Klein pickups and a few other tweaks, “…running through a reissue Super Reverb that’s also heavily modded,” he said. “A Déja-Vibe and a Tube Screamer are a [Robin] Trower fan’s best friend!”
Conversely, “King of the Mountain” has a dense mix of instruments.
“We doubled the 12-string, then layered in electric seven-string on the chorus, as well as a banjo on the solo, plus some ambient, Hendrix-inspired reverse-lead things. It was meant to be Son House meets Soundgarden in the desert, on mescaline… not that I’d know about that sort of thing.”
In addition to “Can’t Lose What You Never Had,” Cook covered Roosevelt Sykes’ “.44 Blues” and Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”
“I chose the Muddy Waters tune to show how classic blues can be presented in a different way,” he said. “I tuned down a step and a half, to C#, and made it more contemporary. The Dylan song was to show jazz influence, especially with the vocals. I did ‘.44 Blues’ live one day when I couldn’t think of anything else to record, and we ended up keeping it. It’s my own rendition, and the spontaneity pleased me.”
Having just wrapped a fall tour through several states, Cook is making plans for the future.
“I’m demoing the next album,” he enthused. “It will be more electric, for sure. I want to go heavier, and tour the world.”
This article originally appeared in VG April 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.