MUSIC REVIEW- Playing truth: Eli Cook connects to sublime

Eli Cook is the truth. Period. Now, I know what youre thinking. Youre thinking Im exaggerating. Youre thinking Im blowing things way out of proportion, and theres no way a local cat deserves the illustrious title of the truth. But Im here to tell you Eli Cook does.

I started hearing about Eli about six months ago. Cook and his Red House Blues Band played a weekly stint at Drty Nellys, and a few friends of mine had caught a performance or two. They suggested I check him out. For whatever reason, the opportunity never arose, but I continued to notice his name in event listings in the Hook calendar.

Finally, the buzz came to a head when his name was mentioned to me three times over the course of one week. Seemed like time to see what all the fuss was about.

It just so happened that on the night of my prowl, Eli had a gig scheduled at Sharkys in the old dairy building on Preston Avenue, across the street from The Outback Lodge. When the venue was called The Firehouse Grill, it occasionally hosted music, but was mostly known for being a dive pool hall. I hadnt set foot in the place since the name changed. Seeing Eli there would satisfy my curiosity on two fronts.
Sharkys is still a dive pool hall, but the clientele and atmosphere have changed a bit. The place is mellow and ordinary, and the 30 or so souls scattered around the room all had one thing in common: they were watching Eli Cook.

It doesnt take more than a few songs to get an idea of exactly how good a guitar player is. There are certain things you look for. The first thing is how comfortable the player is with his instrument. Is the axe a burden on his shoulders, or is it a welcome companion?

After I establish the comfort zone, I begin to look at technique, phrasing, and originality versus influence, things like that. It aint hard to tell after one song where Eli stands. The comfort level between him and his instrument is absolutely natural, and thats a crucial element of the truth.

Its kind of like being in the zone playing sports– where the player has an amazing game but mentally finds himself detached from grounded reality for the duration of the competition. Eli tunes the world out when he plays his guitar and enters another place (he may actually not know where he is). For this gig of blues-influenced rock and rock-influenced blues, he dug in hard. And for the listener, thats a wonderful thing.

His band (bass and drums) is not a bad lot. They provided a more than adequate backdrop for Elis six-string circus. In fact, the consistent groove laid down by the bass and drums opened space for Eli to dance around and explore the possibilities of the songs. Eli does love to dance. And for a young player with the amount of skill he possesses, its not hard to see why. As he matures, it will be nice to see him pace himself and not feel the need to be the baddest bad ass on every song. The anticipation of the bad ass will make future performances special.

Unfortunately, I wasnt able to tune in too carefully to Cooks vocals because the sound system didnt quite get them over the wailing blues n roll washing out most of the dialogue in the room. I hear that his vocals are just as unusual and interesting as his guitar playing. If thats so, then he most definitely is the truth.