Thursday, 17 November 2011

"The RCA Albums Collection" by SAM COOKE. A Review Of The 2011 RCA-Sony/Legacy 8CD Mini Box Set.

This review is part of my "SOUNDS GOOD: Exceptional CD Remasters Soul, Funk & Jazz Fusion" Download Book available to buy on Amazon to either your PC or Mac (it will download the Kindle software to read the book for free to your toolbar). Click on the link below to go my Author's Page for this and other related publications:


"…You Can Make Me Weep…You Can Make Me Cry…"

I've had this pre-ordered for months - and when it arrived this morning - I ripped off the shrink rap with an indecent haste. And I'm thrilled to say that Sony/Legacy has done a very tasty job indeed - tracks and albums that are NEW TO CD. And priced at roughly three quid per disc, this wee beauty is also great value for money.

Here are the details: UK released Monday 14 November 2011 - "The RCA Albums Collection" on RCA Records-Sony/Legacy 88697898702 has 8 US albums on 8CDs and breaks down as follows:

1. "Cooke's Tour" – a 12-track LP originally released April 1960 on RCA Victor LSP-2221 (36:59 minutes)
2. "Hits Of The 50's" – a 12-track LP originally released August 1960 on RCA Victor LSP-2236 (33:57 minutes)
3. "Swing Low" – a 12-track LP originally released March 1961 on RCA Victor LSP-2293 (36:31 minutes)
4. "My Kind Of Blues" – a 12-track LP originally released October 1961 on RCA Victor LSP-2392 (32:52 minutes)
5. "Twistin' The Night Away" – a 12-track LP originally released April 1962 on RCA Victor LSP-2555 (29:18 minutes)
6. "Mr. Soul" – a 12-track LP originally released February 1963 on RCA Victor LSP-2673 (36:06 minutes)
7. "Night Beat" – a 12-track LP originally released September 1963 on RCA Victor LSP-2709 (37:45 minutes)
8. "One Night Stand! Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963" – a 10-track show recorded 12 January 1963, but not released until June 1985 on RCA Victor AFL 1-5181 (38:49 minutes)

I half expected the booklet to be slight and useless, but at 24-pages and with full music credits and discography info on all eight albums – it isn’t. There’s also a short essay by STUART COLEMAN and great black & white snaps of Sam in the studio. As you can see from the Amazon photo provided above - the outer box is as uninspiring as a bowl of cold mashed potatoes on a Monday morning – but the eight individual card repros contained within are LOVELY - faithfully depicting front and rear sleeves in full colour. Very nicely done. But the big news is the SOUND…

Albums 1 to 6 are remastered by VIC ANESINI with 7 and 8 done by BOB LUDWIG – both highly respected and revered names in the business of transferring old master tapes. The audio quality is 'Living Stereo' BEAUTIFUL – clear, warm and full of great feeling. There’s air around each track and yet not overbearingly so – no compression and plenty of room to breath – always a sign of engineers who respect the original sound and source material.

Musically – and despite his legend as the greatest vocalist - it’s a mixed bag of the awful and the great. It starts out badly with "Cooke's Tour" where he sings songs about different cities around the world – it’s cheesy lounge music and largely unlistenable now. The 2nd album "Hits Of The 50's" is more on the suave Crooner tip but with better material like Nat King Cole’s "Mona Lisa", The Platters standard "The Great Pretender" and Doris Day's "Secret Love" – Cooke gets to stretch out vocally and his control is so sweet. "Swing Low" features "Chain Gang" and the brassy 4th album "My Kind Of Blues" features "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and the Big Joe Turner classic "Trouble In Mind". He finally starts to hit his Soulful stride with the "Twistin' The Night Away" LP which features "Movin' And A' Groovin'" and the excellent "Somebody Have Mercy". The "Mr. Soul" LP is even better – "Chains Of Love" and "Smoke Rings" are silky smooth and the truly gorgeous "Nothing Can Change This Love" is my all-time favourite by him (lyrics above). The box culminates in two genuine masterpieces – the bluesy "Night Beat" LP which I reviewed a few months back as an 'obscure album you must own' and the posthumously released live set "One Night Stand!" which shows him in magnificent form.

Niggles – as you can see from the skimpy playing times noted above - the discs are not exactly chockers with music. And as fans will know, albums 1 to 7 were originally issued in both MONO and STEREO, yet only the STEREO versions have been used here, when there was room for both. If it’s an 'RCA Albums' box set, then issue them as they were originally released (most of it would have been first time on CD too). And because this set focuses on 1960 onwards - if you’re looking for his huge Fifties hits like "You Send Me", "Cupid" and "Only Sixteen" – they’re not on here. For those you should go to the single compilation "Portrait Of A Legend 1951-1964" - which has superlative track choices and glorious SACD sound quality. Or if you want a broader view of his entire career including his 1950's Gospel stuff with The Sour Stirrers - the 96-track 4CD Box Set from 2000 called "The Man Who Invented Soul" is the place to go. It was reissued in September 2011 as a mini book version at an incredibly cheap price.

To sum up – this is a lovely reissue – and about time too. OK – it has to be said that a lot of the content on the first 4 discs is hardly 'soulful' in the way we now know it (too many crappy covers and cheesy lounge tunes that haven’t dated at all well), but the songs in between the cracks are a nice rediscovery - and the wonderful 4 albums that follow are must owns.

Recommended (and I must grab me a copy of the Nina Simone set in this series too)…

PS: this is one in a series of 'Complete' album box sets – for 16 or 17 more - see a pictorial list I did on Listmania on Amazon UK called "Sony/Legacy "Complete Collection" Box Set Series"

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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