Sam Cooke, Keep Movin’ On

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Keep Movin' On

Sam Cooke

Those looking for a handy compendium of Sam Cooke's best-known songs would be advised to look elsewhere. There's no "Cupid" or "You Send Me" or "Wonderful World" on Keep Movin 'On — but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Recorded in 1963, the final year of Cooke's life, Keep Movin 'On is a snapshot of an artist in transition. The songs on this compilation roam — giddily — beyond Cooke's usual sweet-soul borders. "Cousin of Mine" and "Basin Street Blues" are jubilant dalliances with New Orleans jazz, horn lines curling like pipe smoke, guitars scratching and scurrying. "Shake" is a foray into booming R&B; most of Cooke's studio work before this had been spit-shined and meticulously sanded, but "Shake" hints at a kind of raggedness glimpsed only on the astonishing Live at the Harlem Square Club. Cooke's voice, it goes without saying, is immaculate. His command of pitch and tone are perfect; he's a spectacularly controlled vocalist. There's nothing here that doesn't need to be here — not a note, not a flourish, not a second of vibrato.

Two dozen more glimpses of a master at work.

It's not all rarities, though. The compilation's standout, obviously, is "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song still so magnificent and magisterial it proves capable of raising goosebumps some decades after its creation. Lore holds that this song was Cooke's attempt to write his own "Blowin 'in the Wind," and an argument could be raised that he effortlessly bested his inspiration. The song is built on all of Cooke's best attributes. It's a masterpiece of conflicting sentiments: beaten, proud, worried, determined, cynical, hopeful, and Cooke somehow gets all of them into his voice. The opening sentence alone — the long blue ache in his voice when he holds out the word "born," the way the next line feels like it's tumbling helplessly downhill — all of those require the right combination of commitment and distance. To oversing the song would be to destroy it. Cooke knows that, and you can hear it in the sad, sighing way he hurries through the song's title lyric: "I know a change gonna come. Yes it will." 40-plus years later, we're still waiting.