Album: Sam Cooke

Portrait of a Legend 1951-64, Abkco
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The Independent Culture

Sam Cooke was the crucial catalyst in the transformation of gospel into soul music, a compelling performer blessed with a blissful, melismatic tenor of impassioned purity, and the looks to match: even Muhammad Ali conceded Sam his equal in terms of prettiness, while no less an authority than Atlantic Records soul svengali Jerry Wexler considered Cooke "the best singer who ever lived, no contest". He was also, as this collection shows, a hugely talented songwriter, able to dash off a "Chain Gang" in the back seat of a car, or a "Twistin' the Night Away" while watching TV, but also able, when spurred to the task by hearing "Blowin' In The Wind", to produce a civil-rights anthem with the intense yearning of "A Change Is Gonna Come". This hybrid SACD compilation is essentially a condensed version of last year's four-disc set The Man Who Invented Soul, augmented by a few obvious additions such as "Shake" - arguably the original Sixties soul template - although still far too short on Cooke's earlier gospel career. Still, at least it includes the classic "Touch the Hem of His Garment", although the inferior, secularised "Lovable" (recorded under the pseudonym "Dale Cook" so as not to alienate his gospel audience) is preferred here to the wonderful "Wonderful", depriving a wider audience of his chummily affectionate take on Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd/ He's my guy".