The Man and His Music is the second release in RCA’s four-part reissue tribute to Sam Cooke. The first, Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, was issued last year. It captured Cooke at his “Having a Party” peak, all fire and brimstone and rock & roll — a sure-’nuff revelation for anyone who remembers Cooke only for sugarcoated pop with a dash of soul. The Man, with a few exceptions, isn’t so revealing. It’s essentially a “best of” package with some added attractions, such as three sides from his gospel group, the Soul Stirrers, including the doo-wopish “Touch the Hem of His Garment.” Then comes the hit parade — from “You Send Me” to “Shake” — plus an assortment of B sides generally proving that Cooke’s voice could redeem even the kitschiest arrangements (“Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day,” “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha”).
Two of the twenty-eight tracks on these two records are real finds: “Somebody Have Mercy,” a rollicking rhythm & blues complete with full-throttle horns and a standout harmonica solo, and “Ain’t That Good News,” a Ray Charles-style hoedown, featuring banjo, conga, acoustic guitar and horns, that could easily have been covered by Elvis. Also included is “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Cooke’s plea for civil rights that was released after his death. “It’s been a looooong, a long time coming/But I know-oh-woah a change is gonna come,” sings Sam. He was right, of course.
The Man and His Music will probably just confirm what people already knew about Sam Cooke: he possessed a voice that could burn down the house, but he compromised it for stardom. Hopefully, the next record — RCA promises a blues album — will be more of a revelation.