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CD Review: Sam Cooke – Night Beat

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Sam Cooke is one of the most influential and most beloved R&B/soul singer songwriters in music history. Sam had 29 Top 40 pop chart hits including “Chain Gang,” “Another Saturday Night” and “You Send Me.” His music is timeless and recognized worldwide. Sam was inducted as a charter member to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Although known mostly for his R&B tunes, Sam nonetheless touched upon gospel, jazz and blues. Night Beat is his most acclaimed album, “which was recorded over three nights in February of 1963, came in the midst of a period of extraordinary creativity” (Peter Guralnick, author of Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke). The result is a treasure of soulful lyrics, tender vocals and unadorned instrumentals that adds another wonder to Cooke’s cherished career and life.

Sam’s music has always focused on the words that he sang so passionately. He takes this a step further with Night Beat, limiting the background melodies to mainly a piano. It is “appropriate to an album intended in many ways as a tribute to the great blues pianist Charles Brown” (Guralnick). The music is accentuated by its simplicity – not being a spectacle makes a song like “Mean Old World” even more intimate. Nothing is more intimate than a solo, which Sam comes close to in “Lost And Lookin” with the exception of both a light bass and percussion.

It might simply be fairer to recognize that his ambition was unlimited, that he saw no reason that he should be bounded by artificial barriers of any sort, that he fully believed that he could do it all – and his work would be the proof of that. – Guralnick

The reason that Sam is able to touch so many people is that his music is so raw. Sam cuts out anything unnecessary and leaves behind the music’s essence. Night Beat is often described as a concept album (sans the album’s last song – the very upbeat “Shake Rattle And Roll”). Being recorded in February might have given Sam a lingering Valentine’s Day memory with many songs dealing with love and loss like the intense “Get Yourself Another Fool” and the sorrowful “I Lost Everything.”

It isn’t saying much considering how talented he was, but Sam Cooke’s voice was his greatest gift. Like Nat King Cole before him, Sam had one of the most recognizable and purest voices. The great artists touched people. Like B.B. King with his guitar or Dizzy Gillespie with his trumpet, Sam did so with his voice. The opening track “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” is the album’s triumph, perfectly capturing Sam’s incredible ability to inject every ounce of emotion into every note. The phrase “glory hallelujah” has never sounded so true.

“You must make your audience feel what you feel.” – Sam Cooke

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