Hymn for My Soul
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Mon June 9, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Joe Cocker has been lost in the wilderness for so long that itís doubtful that fans who were drawn to his output during the late 1960s and early 1970s are paying much attention anymore. Although he has knocked a few tunes out of the park over the course of the past few decades, his outings havenít been nearly as satisfying as his debut With a Little Help from My Friends or its eponymous successor. For the record, Hymn for My Soul, Cockerís latest endeavor ó which was issued overseas more than a year ago ó isnít the answer either. Nevertheless, it does go a long way toward reminding the world of his once-commanding presence as an interpreter of other peopleís songs.
In actuality, Cockerís re-emergence began with the release of Heart and Soul in 2004. While there wasnít much hype surrounding the collection, it at least signaled that Cocker was looking to reinvigorate his career. Hymn for My Soul largely follows suit, and although the steps it takes toward righting his ship are smaller, the outing clearly is meant to build upon its predecessor, thereby becoming Cockerís umpteenth attempt at making a comeback. For an indication of what is at stake here, consider this: Hymn for My Soulís producer Ethan Johns not only is very much in demand these days, but he also is the son of Glyn Johns, who served as an engineer on Cockerís high-profile project Mad Dogs & Englishmen and later helmed everything from The Whoís Whoís Next to the Eaglesí first three albums. In addition, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, session drummer Jim Keltner, Motown bass player Bob Babbitt, vocalist Merry Clayton from The Raelettes, and Jethro Tullís Dave Palmer ó among others ó join forces to provide the musical support to Cockerís anguished vocals.
Unlike I Can Stand a Little Rain, which crawled through the depths of his alcohol-related troubles, Hymn for My Soul gravitates toward the hurts-so-good blend of British rock and blue-eyed soul that Cocker, along with Steve Winwood and Van Morrison, helped to establish 40 years ago. In this regard, the outing is a credible attempt to recapture the luster that long has been missing from Cockerís work, and it sheds most of the lifeless mediocrity that has plagued far too many of his endeavors. There are no reggae rhythms designed to reinvent Cockerís sound. Instead, he embraces the style of music that most people expect him to deliver. Likewise, when he sings, Cockerís pain is apparent, but rather than feeling claustrophobic, the arrangements are designed to be cleansing, liberating, and transcendent.
Unfortunately, this is where Hymn for My Soul misses its target. Although he tackled some wonderful material ó which runs the gamut from George Harrisonís Beware of Darkness to Bob Dylanís Ring Them Bells and from Stevie Wonderís You Havenít Done Nothiní to The Subdudesí One Word (Peace) ó the approach that Cocker took to establishing the moods and settings for his interpretations wasnít terribly risky. Where his rendition of With a Little Help from My Friends placed a radical spin upon Ringo Starrís rather genial recording with The Beatles, Cockerís versions of The Metersí Love Is for Me and Dan Pennís Donít Give Up on Me sound as if he merely is emulating Van Morrison and Ray Charles, respectively. On his covers of John Fogertyís Long as I Can See the Light and Percy Mayfieldís Riverís Invitation, he pushes himself a little further, lending a weary air to the former tune and adding a kind of feisty aggression to the latter one, but he never really uncovers a new perspective for any of these selections.
To Cockerís credit, none of the tracks on Hymn for My Soul are terrible. In fact, they are all quite enjoyable, which in turn makes Hymn for My Soul a rather sturdy outing. Nevertheless, Cocker could have used more of the grit and grime that once were supplied by his Grease Band in order to push him beyond his safety zone. Only then, would he be able to reclaim the legacy that he allowed to slip away.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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