Sam Cooke – Ain’t That Good News – ABKCO 9899-1 (1964) – stereo audiophile LP reissue ***1/2:
There will always be an argument over whether it was Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, or Jackie Wilson, who was the greatest soul crooner of the 1960s. Each had major hit songs and huge fan followers. None of the three had long lifetimes with only Wilson approaching his 50th birthday. Cooke lived the shortest, dying in a mysterious shooting at a motel in December 1964, just a month short of his 34th birthday.
Sam’s final studio album was Ain’t That Good News, which was issued shortly before his death. It was notable for the fact that it introduced “A Change is Gonna Come,” which became an anthem for the civil rights movement. “Another Saturday Night” was the other chart topper that arose from this album. The album has been given an audiophile make-over by ABKCO and is $55 online. The acoustics are crisp with Cooke’s velvety vocals matched by bright horns and upfront rhythm section.
The title track gets the LP off to a strong start with its relaxed groove. “Meet Me at Mary’s Place” has an infectious gospel beat with the background singers in a call and response. “Good Times” finds Sam testifying about letting the good times roll. Try to keep your feet from tapping here. The horns open with a fanfare on “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)” and Cooke makes this pedestrian song sparkle. Much more intoxicating is “Another Saturday Night.” Listening to this classic tune with Cooke’s ad libs will bring you back to nostalgic transistor days. However, the clear percussion, horns, and vocals mix on this track make it blow away any previous issue. Sam tries to resuscitate “Tennessee Waltz” but even his efforts are for naught as it doesn’t belong here, and serves as filler.
Side 2 opens with “A Change is Gomma Come” and its powerful message still resonates today. The strings swirl around Cooke in magnificent stereo, and the violins add to its majesty. Knowing Sam would soon be gone just adds to the effect of the song’s lyrics. He could have been a powerful voice for civil rights had he lived a full life. “Falling in Love” is a sumptuous ballad, and it is easy to imagine slow dancing with your girl to this tune back in the day. “Home (When Shadows Fall)” is given a saccharine treatment and the strings bring to mind the Jackie Gleason with strings albums. This track explains though why Cooke appealed to both the younger listener as well as their parents.
“Sittin’ in the Sun” has a lilting quality that elicits memories of sitting outside in the summer enjoying a lemonade (with maybe an added splash of something stronger). The horns luckily help tamper down the intruding strings . “There’ll Be No Second Time” is much better listening as Cooke instructs what the outcome will be due to a lover’s indiscretion. The inclusion of “The Riddle Song” to end the album shows the producer’s confidence that Cooke could bring soul to most any number, and Cooke partially rewards their confidence with his magnificent voice. It’s doubtful that Otis Redding could have pulled this feat off.
This album has enough plusses to recommend its purchase by fans of Cooke, who want to hear his knockout version of “A Change is Gonna Come” along with the other winning songs, primarily on Side 1, all in superb remastered sound.
Side 1: Ain’t That Good News, Meet Me at Mary’s Place, Good Times, Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day), Another Saturday Night, Tennessee Waltz
Side 2: A Change is Gonna Come, Falling in Love, Home (When Shadows Fall), Sittin’ in the Sun, There’ll Be No Second Time, The Riddle Song