Sam Cooke – The Complete Keen Years: 1957-1960 – ABKCO Records 

by | Apr 14, 2020 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Sam Cooke – The Complete Keen Years: 1957-1960 – ABKCO Records 018771850328 (2020) 5-CD Boxed Set including a 34-page booklet ****:

(Featuring vocals by Sam Cooke with arrangements by Rene Hall, Eddie Beal, Don Ralke, Bumps Blackwell and Benny Carter)

Throughout musical history, the voice of an individual singer cultivated legendary status. Enrico Caruso, Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole and Barbra Streisand were in this category. Another was Sam Cooke. After starring with the gospel group The Soul Stirrers in the early and mid 1950’s, he pivoted to mainstream audiences. Many consider Cooke to be a true pioneer of Soul Music, influencing a generation of performers like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, to name a few. When he signed with Keen Records in 1957, his crossover success was phenomenal. He recorded a string of pop hits that was unrivaled at this time. The first single release (which was the barometer for pop singers at that time) “You Send Me” reached #1 on the r & b and Billboard charts simultaneously. Other hits like “(What A) Wonderful World”, “Cupid”, “Only Sixteen’, “Twisting The Night Away” and “Another Saturday Night” kept coming. In a brief career, Cooke charted 29 singles and was beginning to transform the landscape of soul music before his untimely death in 1964.

ABKCO Records has released a 5-CD boxed set of Cooke’s transitional recordings. Sam CookeThe Complete Keen Years 1957-1960 is an expansive re-mastered anthology of the highly polished arrangements that successfully defined this singer in popular culture. Disc 1 (Sam Cooke) opens with the brilliant game-changing single, “You Send Me”. This was written by the singer and captures his vocal expertise and commercial potential. The production by “Bumps Blackwell” is precise and lavish. Cooke shines on songs like “The Lonesome Road” which has a bluesy feel. Even in constrained arrangements (“‘Ol Man River”, “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “That Lucky Old Sun”), Cooke’s soulful essence permeates. “Summertime (Part 2”) is warm and heartfelt. Other middle-of-the road covers (“Tammy”, “Moonlight In Vermont” and “The Bells Of St. Mary’s”), are not as effective. Disc Two (Encore) repeats this pattern with a sharp focus on pop standards. On CD 3 (Tribute To The Lady), the vocal genius of Cooke is palpable. He connects with a variety of Billie Holiday songs (in mono and stereo ). Lush arrangements by Rene Hall feature big band jazzy instrumental finesse and glowing backup vocals. “God Bless The Child”, “Crazy She Calls Me”, “Solitude” and “Good Morning Heartache” distill the essence of Holiday melancholy. Cooke is equally adept with up tempo numbers like “T’Aint Nobody’s Business If I Do”, “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues”, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, and “Comes Love”. They are jaunty and demonstrate the singer’s command of lyric interpretation.

CD 4 (Hit Kit) is as advertised, concise and accessible pop excellence. Most of these recordings (here in mono and stereo) charted on Pop and R & B over the prolific three-year period. The anthology includes both “A” and “B” sides. “Only Sixteen” exudes the Sam Cooke fluid, breezy vocals. The lyrics are typical 50’s teenage fare, but Cooke’s voice elevates the record. On a dance tune, “Everybody Likes To Cha Cha Cha”, mundane is charming and coyly hip. The Rodgers Hart standard, “Blue Moon” has been covered by many pop and soul singers  (including the unforgettable 1961 version by The Marcels). Cooke straddles the two genres seamlessly. There is an undercurrent of blues on “Lonely Island” with a smooth groove. The quick, ongoing succession of singles may lead to some repetition (“You Send Me”/“I Love You For Sentimental Reasons”), but Cooke’s appeal never falters. The final CD (The Wonderful World Of Sam Cooke) is distinguished for the title cut (co-written By Cooke, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert). This is nothing short of rock ’n’ roll history with soulful resonance. That vibe is continued on “No One (Could Ever Take Your Place)”.

Kudos to ABKCO Records for re-issuing the complete early pop recordings of an icon like Sam Cooke.

CD and Tracklist:
CD 1 (Sam Cooke):
You Send Me; The Lonesome Road; Tammy; Ol’ Man River; Moonlight In Vermont; Canadian Sunset; Summertime (Part 2); Around The World; Ain’t Misbehavin’ The Bells Of St. Mary; So Long; Danny Boy; That Lucky Old Sun

CD 2 (Encore): 
Oh! Look At Me Now; Someday; Along The Navaho Trail; Running Wild; Ac-centt-tchuate The Positive; Mary, Mary Lou; When I Fall In Love; I Cover The Waterfront; My Foolish Heart; Today I Sing The Blues; The Gypsy; It’s The Talk Of The Town

CD 3 (Tribute To The Lady Mono/Stereo): 
God Bless The Child; She’s Funny That Way; I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues; Good Morning Heartache; T’aint Nobody’s Business (If I Do); Comes Love; Lover Girl (Man); Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off; Lover Come Back To Me; Solitude; They Can’t Take That Away From Me; Crazy She Calls Me

CD 4 (Hit Kit Mono/Stereo): 
Only Sixteen; All Of My Life; Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha; Blue Moon; Win Your Love For Me; Lonely Island; You Send Me; Love You Most Of All; (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons; Little Things You Do; Let’s Go Steady Again; You Were Made For Me; Bonus Tracks: Lonely Island (single version); Win Your Love For Me; Almost In Your Arms (Love Song From Houseboat); Everybody Lies To Cha Cha Cha; Little Things You Do; Only Sixteen; Let’s Go Steady Again; With You; Ee-I-Ee-I-Oh aka Ee-Yi-Ee-Yi-Oh

CD 5 (The Wonderful World Of Sam Cooke):
(What A) Wonderful; World; Desire Me; Summertime (Part 1); Almost In Your Arms (Love Song From Houseboat); That’s Heaven To Me; No One (Can Ever Take Your Place); With You; Blue Moon; Stealing Kisses; You Were Made For Me; There I’ve Said It Again; I Thank God; Bonus Tracks: Steal Away (album version); Deep River; One Hour Ahead Of The Posse; Ee-I-Ee-I-Oh aka Ee-Yi-Ee-Yi-Oh; So Glamorous; Steal Away (single version)

—Robbie Gerson

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