It’s been well over a decade since a young white kid staked a claim as the next great blues prodigy—Kenny Wayne Shepherd never really transcended his obvious sources of influence, Jonny Lang turned into a gospel singer with decidedly mixed results, and Shannon Curfman never even recorded a second album. Enter 20-year-old Eli Cook, whose Miss Blues’es Child is among the most compelling debuts in recent memory. When so much of modern blues recalls the all-too-accurate Blueshammer sequence from Ghost World, it’s refreshing to hear an artist like Cook, who doesn’t bother with predictable 12-bar arrangements or rely on strident old-timey imagery. Instead, he attains a remarkable degree of authenticity from his fearless arrangements of Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” and Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” both of which showcase can’t-be-taught instincts in phrasing and an ear for killer material. Even more impressive is that his four original compositions are arguably the best cuts on the album. The spoken-word intro to he title track, which takes its title from a Langston Hughes poem, claims that it’s a “remix,” which barely does justice to its inspired rhythmic structure, while “Don’t Ride My Pony” is built on some devilish banjo picking by Patrick McCrowell, making for a country-inflected barnburner. On these tracks, his willingness to toy with genre elevates Cook above all of the other supposed wunderkinds. Still, what’s most striking about Cook—since the reverb in the album’s production does, admittedly, hide a few sloppier passages in his guitar-work—is his otherworldly voice. A gritty, old-as-the-hills baritone, Cook’s voice isn’t pleasing in any conventional sense, but that’s what makes it perfectly suited for blues. Singing about being destitute or outrunning death, Cook is never less than convincing. He’s a kid just sick with talent and someone with the potential to reinvigorate a tired genre.
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