First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
Six weeks after capturing the fiery performance featured on One Night Stand! Live at the Harlem Square Club, Sam Cooke spent three days in a recording studio in Hollywood crafting what would become another anomaly within his canon. Indeed, Night Beat, the resulting album, was devoid of the glossy production flourishes that typically adorned his work, and it not only pointed the way to his civil rights anthem A Change Is Gonna Come, but it also hinted as to where his music might have gone had he not met an untimely fate in late 1964. Conceptually designed, the ambitious collection functioned as an uncompromising tribute to his African-American roots as well as to pianist Charles Brown, who was a major influence upon Cooke’s vocal style. Accompanied by a small group of musicians — which rotated among drummers Hal Blaine and Edward Hall; organist Billy Preston (who was then just 16 years old); pianist Ray Johnson; guitarists Barney Kessel, Clifton White, and Rene Hall; and bass player Cliff Hils — Cooke reveled in the openness of the arrangements, allowing the subtleties of the instrumentation to frame his sweet and soulful intonations. Although he lent only one original composition to Night Beat — the slow-burning blues of Laughin’ and Clownin’ — he made the rest of the material his own as he settled effortlessly into the swinging groove of the Brown-penned Please Don’t Drive Me Away, delivered I Lost Everything with a refined dignity that drew allusions to Nat King Cole, and magically captured the yearning inherent within the traditional Mean Old World. Elsewhere, he turned up the heat on a smoldering rendition of Little Red Rooster and recast the spiritual Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen in way that allowed it to serve as both a protest song as well as an ode to broken hearts. Still, the highlight undeniably was Lost and Lookin’, the outing’s sparsest track, where, flanked only by a gentle tap of cymbal and a steady throb of bass, Cooke unleashed a hypnotically haunting performance that provided the template for Nina Simone’s equally transcendent Come Ye. ˝
Night Beat is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box