The idea behind the Detroit Cobras is taking classic Motown and soul and playing it as a garage band. Since they are a garage band, this makes sense. Whether it is still a good idea after three Detroit Cobras CDs is open to question.
The songs that the band covers are obscure, which is an advantage. You might say that the Cobras want the public to rediscover some great songs that have been forgotten. Or cynics might say they pick unheard songs, because their versions are not as good as the originals. Either way, comparisons with the originals are probably not appropriate if you have not heard them. And you would have difficultly finding many of them. Just as a garage album, not a cover CD, this is an OK effort.
With 20 tracks, of course, the Cobras have the same problem as most garage bands: everything sounds alike after a while. Rachel Nagy has a good voice, but Mary Ramirez and Steve Nawara on guitar seem to have limited skills. And Nagy never expresses any subtlety; she uses an in-your-face aggressive stance for every song. That attitude works with the songs that they have picked to cover. Works like “Cha Cha Twist” do not need special interpretation. But it does not make for variety.
The group changes things a little throughout the CD, adding vocalists and another guitarist (who is also no threat to Eric Clapton). The tempos vary and there is some experimentation with melody. Even so, you may feel relieved that the jangle is over after the 20th song is finished.
The promo sheet for this CD says, “Imagine how Ronnie Spector would have turned out if she were locked away in a garage for ten years without ever seeing the light of day.” But she was. When she was married to Phil Spector, he locked her away in the house for years. She escaped and is performing now. With a lot more soul than is shown on this CD.
Soul is a difficult thing to describe, since it is something that you have to feel. This CD doesn’t have it. It has energy and attitude. But when you show an African American couple on your CD sleeve and title it Baby, you need more than just respect for the songs that you play. You should make people feel them, and make them be remembered. And that is something that the Cobras don’t do.