Album Reviews

Joe Cocker – Hymn For My Soul

(Parlophone) UK release date: 14 May 2007

It’s hardly an unfamiliar situation. An ageing legend, without a hit or decent album in ages, teams up with a hip producer. Magic ensues. Well, usually.

Not this time, though. Ethan Johns mans the desk, best known for his excellent work with Kings Of Leon and Ryan Adams, with the task of making Joe Cocker good again. Whereas Rick Rubin’s work with Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash was a masterclass in stripping away the bullshit to reveal the true soul of the performer, Hymn For My Soul often falls into the same pub-blues trap as previous Cocker albums.

There’s little doubting the quality of the songs themselves, all covers of the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and George Harrison, but the attempt at a raw, rootsy sound just doesn’t always come off. Instead, it often ends up sounding a bit dull and neutered.

There are moments of real quality that do redeem the album. After an inauspicious start with a regrettable attempt at a ‘funky’ take on Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothin’, things pick up with a powerful interpretation of Art Neville and The Meter‘s Love Is For Me.

Sounding like a weathered crooner in some run-down saloon, Cocker’s magnificent voice subtly wrings every last drop of emotion out of the song, backed a suitably low-key arrangement. Similarly, it all comes together on the haunting version of Dylan’s Ring Them Bells and the wistful title track – originally by Andy Fairweather-Low – where stodge is kept to a minimum.

Cocker has made a career out of interpreting other people’s songs, but while previous albums have been the sound of an old-timer running on autopilot, here he at least seems to have regained some kind of hunger and passion. The stellar line-up of backing musicians helps (Tom Scott, Benmont Tench, James Gadson), all legendary sessioneers in their own right, and the result is a dignified, if unspectacular return to form. Unlikely to win him any new fans, but sure to keep the faithful happy a while longer.

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