Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

The Best of Sam Cooke


Night Beat


One Night Stand--Live at the Harlem Square Club

Two key Sam Cooke albums, and one redundant one, remember a puzzling soul singer

Musically, Rock and Roll hall of Fame charter member Sam Cooke is a stumper. His voice wasn't just smooth and gritty at the same time, it was also infinitely relaxed--for the many who adore it, a sing-the-phonebook voice. But he was so intent on the pop market that some curmudgeons might prefer the phone book to his orchestral accompaniments. Fortunately, these albums avoid his clumsier commercial endeavors. Even so, bypass Best of for Abkco's 30-track Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964, which includes all of its 15 songs. But Night Beat gets points for conceiving pop as lounge R&B rather than violin schlock, even if Cooke isn't always up to the blues-tinged standards he covers and tries to write. And Live at the Harlem Square Club, recorded at a black venue, takes his hits fast and rough. Mythmakers claim this is the real Cooke, which he would have denied. But it's an impressive document whose rousing climax suggests what might have ensued if he hadn't died two years later.

Blender, Oct. 2005