Like his contemporary Ray Charles, Sam Cooke found a way to infuse his music with a gospel tinge that translated into popular acclaim. The difference is that Charles kept the gritty, raucous feel of a Sunday meetin’, at least on his Atlantic sides, while Cooke seemed bent on making records designed to appeal to a cross-section of the country. To my taste, despite the grace (perfection, even) of the man’s voice and phrasing, Cooke’s early pop novelties are too smooth, too ingratiating to work as anything more than pleasant Capital Gold fodder.
The music released with the Soul Stirrers during the first half of the 1950s (as evidenced by the Peace In the Valley CD I bought with Mrs. Asbo last week) prior to the headlong dive into commercial waters was already fully mature, has dated less and resonates far more deeply. And yet, so too do his final performances (on the fourth side of best of Lp pictured which I purchased the weekend before), especially the glorious “A Change Is Gonna Come”. It’s as if his innovations were a few years too early; so, again for me, the music that most resembles classic 60s soul is the most satisfying. It sounds he was just hitting another artistic peak when he was killed.