Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bring It On Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke [Ace, 2014]
As a benighted one who admires Cooke's voice and songwriting without adoring them, I like the way these 24 cover versions reconceptualize the beloved departed. It's as if Cooke's crossover convinced all the soul singers who followed him out of gospel that simply by marshaling their intelligence and pretending to be nicer than they had any reason to be they could achieve . . . not equality (I mean, get real), but undreamed-of levels of acclaim and material well-being. Not all of them did, of course--with or without racism, show business is a bitch. But the positivity that lifts every track here is both inspiring and poignant. And for us benighted there's the bonus of improvements on the originals: Percy Sledge moaning "You Send Me," Mel Carter sweetening "When a Boy Falls in Love," Theola Kilgore feminizing "Chain Gang," Johnny Nash reciting "Wonderful World" like maybe he can be an A student after all. And more. A