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Sam Cooke
 Sam Cooke's Night Beat, Abkco CD 1124-2 or LP 1124-1

 Back again - a unique album by the great soul singer

It starts softly, with the bass repeatedly playing two low notes, then two higher notes in a slow even rhythm and open ambiguous harmony (the notes are the same as the first two notes of "Amazing Grace"). Cymbals enter, also softly, and then Sam Cooke achingly sings "I'm lost, and I'm lookin' for my baby...." And so the first song, "Lost and Lookin'," sets the mood simply and elegantly for this wonderful album. Boy, is it good to have this back! Sam Cooke was a contender for the title of Best Soul Singer in the World, and might have locked it up had he not been shot dead the year after this album was first released. Recorded in three sessions with just a small group - what used to be called a "combo" - of piano, organ, two guitars, bass, and drums, the whole album has a late night last call sound. Sam's singing is a little subdued, as it often was at lily-white RCA, but in this case it suits the mood of the album perfectly.

The music leans heavily on the blues, without the shouting. Most songs have Billy Preston on organ playing block chords, with Raymond Johnson on piano chipping in with gospel responses at the end of Sam's phrases. (His is the second most distinctive voice on the album.) Barney Kessel is featured on lead guitar on three cuts, and fits in perfectly. Three tunes are by Cooke, and many of the others are familiar from other places, other voices, although you may not remember that when Sam is singing. Only the last tune, "Shake Rattle and Roll," starts to get uptempo and feels slightly out of place. This is the only one Cooke does not stake his claim on; it still belongs to Big Joe Turner after he's done.

Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster" starts with Billy Preston crowing on the Hammond (and later barking with the dogs). This great blues tune has been recorded by everyone from Howlin' Wolf to Paula Lockheart, but this rendition has to rank up there with best. Sam knows just where to leave a gap, how to rush the beat, when to move up an octave. Charles Brown's "Trouble Blues" starts with Sam mmm-mmm-mming the melody against bass and drums. Then the piano and organ come in, with Clif White's guitar laying triplet chords against the groove. Billy Preston has a nice solo, then a closing chorus. Beautiful. Sam's own "You Gotta Move," a six-eight blues, cooks quietly from start to finish, with Billy Preston, Raymond Johnson, and the great Hal Blaine fitting together perfectly. Those, along with the perfect first track, are the highlights for me right now, but every time I listen I hear something more to like.

This reissue sounds just fine, featuring good (though typically wide) placement of the instruments across the stage and Sam's voice ahead of the rest of the group. And, imagine!, it is available on LP as well as CD. (See the Jelly Jar for possible sources for the LP.) On my system, the beautifully thick and flat LP captures a bit more of the woody bite when the bass is plucked, and has a sweeter sound on cymbals and triangles than the CD, which has that familiar bit of tizz. On the CD, Sam's voice is more prominent, making it easier to catch some of his inflections, but sometimes making you feel you are looking down at his tonsils. In any case, either version is fine listening. The LP has a gatefold cover, and the CD a nice booklet, both with a photo of the sessions and notes by Robert Palmer (the critic and advisor to the PBS rock'n'roll series, not the "Addicted to Love" guy). What more can I say? Buy this, in either version, before it disappears again. --  Glenn Brooks

 Jason Staczek says... The extreme stereo separation of the instruments on this record (piano/organ hard left, drums/bass/guitar hard right, vocals up the center) made for difficult listening seated right in front of and in between the speakers. Sam's voice really (really) stands out this way, but the effect was too distracting. When I got up and listened from the next room, it sounded like Sam and the band were in the back of the club at the end of the bar. Perfect.
. By the way, the liner notes mention that the record was recorded Feburary 22, 23 and 25, 1963. That would mean they were in the studio Friday and Saturday, took Sunday off, and finished up Monday. It might be my imagination, but I think they soaked up a little church on Sunday and let it show on the cuts they recorded on Monday. Listen to "You Gotta Move" and see what you think.

production notes
Sam Cooke, vocals; Raymond Johnson, piano; Billy Preston, organ; Rene Hall, Clifton M. White, Barney Kessel, guitar; Clifford Hils, bass; Hal Blaine, Edward J. Hall, drums.
Originally produced by Hugo & Luigi and recorded by Dave Hassinger in February, 1963. Released on LP as RCA LSP-2709, 1963. Reissue mastered by Ricky Essig & Frankford Wayne with some digital editing and released in 1995. (31:35)

song titles
Lost and Lookin'
Mean Old World
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
Please Don't Drive Me Away
I Lost Everything
Get Yourself Another Fool
Little Red Rooster
Laughin' and Clownin'
Trouble Blues
You Gotta Move
Fool's Paradise
Shake Rattle and Roll

of related interest
Sam Cooke
The Man and His Music, 1987 compilation, RCA/BMG CD 7863 7127 4
Twenty-eight songs, over 77 minutes, this CD is the best survey of Cooke's all too brief career. No overlap with Night Beat. Unfortunately, it is now out-of-print (way to go, BMG) and hard to find - except on eBay, where copies appear frequently and usually go for $20-25.

Copyright © 1995 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.