Joe Cocker: Sheffield Steel [Bonus Tracks]

Jason MacNeil

Joe Cocker

Sheffield Steel [Bonus Tracks]

Label: Universal Chronicles
US Release Date: 2002-10-15
UK Release Date: 2002-10-21

Joe Cocker has one of those voices that you love or hate, there is virtually no middle ground. From his Woodstock phase as the front man for Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Cocker has created a body of work that has seen its share of ups and downs. In the late '70s and early '80s, Cocker continued touring where and when he could. But by not having the aid of a record label, it wasn't the easiest road traveled. After conversing with a member of his backing band, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell sought Cocker and invited him down to record with the famous reggae duo of Sly and Robbie. The result of three sessions between globetrotting is what you have here. And 20 years later, it's still one of his better albums.

Mainly void of a dated '80s synthesized sound, Cocker gets down to business early and effortlessly on "Look What You've Done", a blues tune that the gravel-tinged voice nails from the beginning. Sounding similar in parts to what Eric Clapton has recently offered up with Pilgrim and From the Cradle, Cocker loses control near the conclusion and it's worth the risk. "Shocked" reverts back to a high-school prom slow dance tempo, as Sly Dunbar's snare drum weaves its magic for all the three minutes. One of the assets that makes the album work is that Cocker isn't drowned out by an over-bearing horn section, something that can be his undoing both on albums and in concert. "I've been told, there's a thorn in every rose", he sings rather smoothly before an abrupt ending.

"Sweet Little Woman" relies mainly on a reggae beat and arrangement. But it tends to be too lightweight for Cocker's powerful voice. While he does strain in places, it's quite tame for his standards. Adrian Belew's (King Crimson, David Bowie) guitar solo isn't bad here, but does little to bring the song up to snuff. One of the oddest songs here is the cover of Bob Dylan's "Seven Days". Here Cocker comes off a bit like a latter day Sting, but the song works for some reason. The number also has a spacious feeling to it, especially during the homestretch. The track listing sounds like it's out of order in some spots, as the change of pace into the downbeat "Marie" is an extreme contrast. The tune, penned by Randy Newman, has Cocker coming across like its author. Some subtle keyboards and even a triangle is thrown in for good measure.

A great moment on the album comes in the form of "Many Rivers to Cross", a song whose backing arrangement meshes perfectly with Cocker's voice. "It's such a drag to be on your own", he sings, resembling the ideal that former Black Crowes lead singer Chris Robinson tried on New Earth Mud. If there's one drawback, it's the fact that it fades far quicker than it needs to. What follows is a slow romantic funk during "So Good, So Right". The chorus could do with the Hall & Oates-like high harmonies, but it has a nice groove working for it. The odd track is the early new wave sound emanating from "Talking Back to the Night". Coming off as the answer to Robert Palmer's "Looking For Clues", the song loses its luster in the middle.

Ending the original album was Jimmy Webb's "Just Like Always", another shining moment that sounds like it was done in one or two takes on a late afternoon. Four bonus track here are included, two of which are seeing the light of day for the first time and two others on compact disc for the first time. Prior to releasing the album, two 12" mixes were released as the back and front of a single. The first, "Sweet Little Woman", is lengthy but has the necessary tools to make it an enjoyable six minutes. But it's not as funky or feel good as "Look What You've Done". The two previously unreleased tracks aren't bad despite sounding like cutting room floor material. "Right in the Middle (of Falling in Love)" sounds a tad routine with an off-kilter drumbeat. "Inner City Blues", originally done by Marvin Gaye, is okay at best. Overall though, this is one album you would have a hard time knocking.






Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.