While calling the new box set from RCA Sam Cooke: The Man Who Invented Soul may seem a little presumptuous, listening to the 96 tracks on these four CDs makes it clear that the title is no frivolous claim.
Arranged chronologically, disc one covers 21 tracks from the beginning of Cooke’s pop career—1957—with the release of “You Send Me” on the Keen label and features 20 more Keen cuts, including “For Sentimental Reasons,” “Only Sixteen,” “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha” and “(What A) Wonderful World.”
Discs two and three showcase his move to RCA (and producers Hugo and Luigi) and feature his smash hits like “Cupid,” “Chain Gang” and “Twistin’ the Night Away,” plus unreleased versions of “Sad Mood,” “Tenderness,” “Nothin’ Can Change This Love” and “Another Saturday Night.”
Disc four gives us Cooke’s attempt to move in a blusier/jazzier direction with all 12 cuts of his 1963 Nightbeat album. Nightbeat featured a small combo including Billy Preston on organ, Ray Johnson on piano and Hal Blaine on drums. It starts off reflecting Cooke’s gospel background with the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” From there it moves to the secular side with “Lost and Lookin’” and “Little Red Rooster,” which Michael Hill describes in the liner notes as swinging “in an almost lascivious way. Sam’s brilliant diction accentuates every double entendre and, just in case you missed the point, Preston underscores every barnyard boast with positively leering organ riffs.” Other standouts include “Laughin’ and Clowin’,” “Trouble Blues” and a rousing version of “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
The last portion of disc four showcases Cooke’s huge talent as a live performer with all nine cuts from “Live At the Harlem Square Club,” recorded in 1963 but not released by RCA until 1985 when it immediately took its place as one of the great live albums. The songs are his familiar hits, but his impassioned performances boost them to new heights. As Hill writes, “This is as up close and personal to the man as you can get—you can practically feel the heat and the perspiration in the North Miami, Fla., nightspot. The tapes have been restored and remastered to convey the live concert in an even more immediate way.”
With brilliant digital transfer and an extensive 30 pages of liner notes, this collection is 4 ½ hours of unabashed joy.
--- Mark K. Miller
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