A year-long celebration by ABKCO of the forthcoming 90th anniversary of soul master Sam Cooke’s birth will begin on 24 January, 2020 with the release of the five-disc set The Complete Keen Years (1957-1960). Cooke would have turned 90 on 22 January 2021.
The set compiles Cooke’s body of work during nearly three years for John and Alex Siamas’s Keen label, from the point at which he began to release secular material. This was after his great success as a gospel singer over the previous six years with the Soul Stirrers. The newly remastered collection highlights the unrivalled versatility with which he made standards his own and wrote unforgettable music of his own.
The story begins with Cooke’s timeless 1957 debut for Keen with his own composition ‘You Send Me.’ As a pop single by a gospel star, it broke boundaries and helped lay the ground for what became soul music. The box set is sourced directly from recently recovered original master tape reels, which were missing for years after Keen’s demise and found after a search of an airplane hangar. The location is explained by the fact that the Siamas brothers’ primary business was providing aircraft parts to the aerospace industry.
The Complete Keen Years (1957-1960) features all of Cooke’s Keen album and single tracks, including his five originally released Keen LPs in their entirety plus multiple bonus cuts, for a total of 65 tracks. Rare photographs and ephemera from the Keen archives are included along with expanded, extensive session information and extensive and insightful liner notes by writer Michael Corcoran.
The first volume in the set has the 13 tracks of Cooke’s 1958 LP debut for Keen, which was self-titled but also known as Songs By Sam Cooke. It’s presented in mono, as originally recorded and released, and as well as ‘You Send Me,’ contains other such highlights as ‘Summertime (Part 2),’ ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ and ‘Danny Boy.’
The second album in the set comprises all of the 1958 release Encore, with Sam’s readings of such staples as ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,’ ‘When I Fall In Love,’ ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ and ‘The Gypsy.’ Orchestral backing, as on the first album, was by Bumps Blackwell.
Cooke’s 1959 salute to Billie Holiday, Tribute to The Lady, is the third disc in the set, again in its original mono. Staples from Holiday’s catalogue on the disc included ‘God Bless The Child,’ ‘I’ve Gotta Right To Sing The Blues,’ ‘Good Morning, Heartache’ and ‘Crazy She Calls Me.’
As Michael Corcoran writes in his new notes: “Like Lady Day, Sam had a pretty voice too honest to be cute, sending the words on paper through a spiritual journey before coming out of a mouth fluent in both sorrow and triumph. But he didn’t sing songs her way.”
The 1959 album Hit Kit was a compilation of Cooke’s most popular songs, which now for the first 12 tracks on CD four of the new collection and include ‘Only Sixteen,’ ‘Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,’ ‘Win Your Love For Me’ and ‘You Were Made For Me,’ in their original mono. Nine bonus tracks, including six rare stereo Keen singles, complete the disc.
The fifth and final disc is The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke, his last Keen album, titled after another of his signatures, ‘(What A) Wonderful World,’ written by Cooke with Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, both of whom were staffers at Keen at the time. Other highlights include ‘That’s Heaven To Me,’ ‘You Were Made For Me’ and ‘Almost In Your Arms (Love Song From Houseboat).’ Six bonus tracks include both a “gospelised” and the original version of ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Deep River,’ plus the non-LP tracks ‘One Hour Ahead of the Posse’ and ‘So Glamorous.’
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