Music

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
Amazon
iTunes

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.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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