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Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square Club

Barney Hoskyns, Rock's Backpages, 1997

MOST OF SAM Cooke's pop hits were sugary, blanched affairs. This album was the real deal, giving us the church-reared R&B singer who liked to tear up the clubs along the Southern chitlin circuit. Recorded in Florida in 1963, Live at the Harlem Square captures the man at his sanctified, sandpapered best--the voice worshipped by disciples from Otis Redding to Rod Stewart. No syrupy glissandos or polite Hollywood chorales here: this is sweat-drenched, back-to-basics R&B, with Sam tearing up ‘Feel It’ and ‘Chain Gang,’ and rasping his way through ‘Somebody Have Mercy’ and ‘Bring It on Home to Me.’ This set only makes it seem sadder that Cooke never lived to reign in the soul era he inaugurated.

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