‘The Complete Keen Recordings (1957-60): The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke’ Shines New Light on Soul Titan (ALBUM REVIEW)

With so many of his hits on the radio for such a long time, Sam Cooke is a familiar artist and a titan of soul. However, on the new collection The Complete Keen Recordings (1957-60): The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke, you can rediscover Cooke’s music and his wonderful voice.

The first disc begins with “You Send Me”, which makes sense because it is such an iconic song, and it draws the listener in. The remainder of the disc is filled with standards like “Moonlight in Vermont” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. While Ray Charles’s version of “That Lucky Old Sun” is great and probably the most well-known, Cooke does an amazing job with it too. In various movies or television shows, you have probably heard countless renditions of “Danny Boy”. The one thing that those versions have in common is that they are mournful, which makes sense. However, Cooke brings some soul to this classic. No matter how sad the song is, you likely won’t feel like crying when you hear this version.

Along the same lines is his version of “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” at the beginning of disc two. Without question, he makes the song his own. The horns lend a big-band sound to the song. The other thing that’s noteworthy about this one is that no matter how long ago it was written, the lyrics are as poignant and relevant now as they ever have been. “Spread joy to the maximum. Bring joy down to the minimum.” That seems like a pretty good motto. The second disc also contains “I Cover the Waterfront”, which has been performed by such artists as Billie Holiday and John Lee Hooker. Cooke’s version is swinging, complete with snapping fingers in the background. This version puts you in mind of a band in perfect suits performing on an old-time bandstand.

As you proceed through this collection, you realize that Sam Cooke could have sung a technical manual and made it sound soulful. His vocals were so easy and pure, it’s just incredible. Really, you can listen to any of his songs and hear this. However, the third disc provides a real study in just how good his vocals were. The songs on this disc were recorded in mono and sound spectacular with Cooke’s amazing vocals. The good news for you audiophiles out there is that the stereo versions of the songs are also on the disc. So, if you want to compare the mono and stereo versions of “T’aint Nobody’s Bizness (If I Do)” or any of the other songs on the disc, you have that opportunity.

When you think about what to say about discs four and five of this collection, it’s not easy because you wonder how much more there is to say. The reason it’s so hard to find something to say is that every song is perfection. Perhaps you’re wondering how this can be. Well, the simple answer is that every song – whether it’s “Blue Moon” or “Let’s Go Steady Again” – is sung by Sam Cooke. That is explanation enough.

This remastered collection is impressive no matter how you look at it. However, when you stop to think, all of the songs on this box set were recorded when Cooke was ages 26 through 29. Granted, he didn’t live much beyond that, but it’s stunning to think that someone could be such an influential artist at such a young age. More than that, it’s stunning to think just how developed an act he was at that time. When you think about it that way, you almost have to imagine that Cooke came out of the womb singing soulful songs. 

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