Sam Moore was one-half of Sam & Dave, the legendary R&B duo who burned “Soul Man” and “Hold On! I’m Comin’” into our collective unconscious. A tumultuous relationship between Moore and his singing partner, Dave Prater, ended the duo’s career in the early ‘70s, though the pair reunited sporadically until Prater’s death in 1988. Sam Moore’s lone solo album, Plenty Good Lovin’, was recorded in 1970 and not released until 2002. Five years in the making, Overnight Sensational is poised to revitalize the career of Sam Moore in the way that Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette, and Candi Staton have all recently been embraced by a new generation of listeners. If only there was more of Moore to hear on Overnight Sensational...
Randy Jackson, music industry mogul and American Idol judge, produces what amounts to a Genius Loves Company-type affair: match a veteran artist with renowned talent and watch the Grammy nominations tally. It’s difficult to experience Overnight Sensational without sensing that the project is a tad contrived, especially when American Idol alumna Fantasia shows up. With twelve tracks and a staggering twenty-three guest artists, Moore is often overshadowed by his company. Though none of the duets completely fail, an entire album of duets and “special guest vocals” undermines the purpose of reintroducing Sam Moore.
The choice of material on Overnight Sensational is inspired but it’s frustrating to hear, for example, Vince Gill harmonize on a cover of Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” when Moore’s voice should be the main attraction. Even more frustrating is that Vince Gill is billed in bold print on the album jacket. I recall a time when such miniscule contributions were notated in small print within an album’s credits. Mariah Carey’s nearly operatic vibrato also surfaces during the chorus (wisely buried in the mix) to great effect. She receives bold billing too, like the other umpteen artists on the album.
Certain couplings are priceless, though. Bruce Springsteen finds his inner reverend on the rollicking “Better to Have and Not Need”. Ever the generous musician, Springsteen doesn’t steal the spotlight from Moore. Same for Sting’s appearance on the brilliant composition, “None of Us Are Free”. Written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, and Brenda Russell, the tune was penned in 1989 but its message, “None of us are free if one of us is chained”, is as relevant as ever in 2006. Sting steps up his game to match the ache in Moore’s soaring tenor. Aspiring male vocalists could learn a thing or two from Moore when he holds the last syllable of “alone” during the bridge.
Similarly, aspiring female vocalists should hear Bekka Bramlett match Moore with equal fervor on a stirring remake of “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)”. In the great tradition of Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, an album of Sam Moore and Bekka Bramlett duets would well-serve each artist’s impressive, but under-recognized, talent. The dynamic duo of Nikka Costa and Van Hunt is also a match made in soul heaven but their appearance on “If I Had No Loot” is reduced to trading a few lines with Moore. This approach does a disservice to all three singers since half the song is repetitions of the chorus, where the background vocalists are featured more prominently than any of the principals.
The appearance of the late Billy Preston on “You Are So Beautiful”, a song Preston wrote for his mother, closes the album. The liner notes, written by Moore’s wife Joyce, reveal that Preston was a dear friend of the Moore family. “You Are So Beautiful” stands as one of Preston’s last recorded pieces of music and it is bittersweet realizations like this that make Overnight Sensational a frustrating listen: sentimentality is weighed down by the dubious conceptualization of the project.