I am a suburban, white teenager, who listens to alternative music. Two weeks ago, I had no idea who Sam Cooke even was. But I picked this album up on a recommendation, and I was blown away. The sound quality is beautiful, much better than most of the mp3s out. The songs themselves are beautiful--nearly indescribable.
If you are casual listener (as I was) trying to see what Sam Cooke was all about, by all means pick up this album. Its price, coupled with the selection of Cooke's best songs (as my friend, the self proclaimed "expert in soul" claims) makes it a steal. If you know a bit more about Cooke, and able to throw down more money, I would definitely go for the box sets. Either way, this album will not disappoint.
Actually, I erred. While I wholeheartedly recommend this album, I'd check out the Keep Movin' On soundtrack as someone has mentioned. Equal in quality, just more songs for the buck. If your mom bought you this though, dont despair, this album is masterful.
In its time, "Ain't That Good News" (1964) was probably Cooke's best studio album. It's more diverse and exciting than "Night Beat" his other indisputable masterwork. The songs here feature an artist exploding as a performer and composer. Every track here breaks down some sort of musical barrier. It's like Cooke is taking the whole of popular music as his own. The title track is a kind of nod to the folk boom of the early 60s with a pop twist. "Tennessee Waltz" mines the same territory but with a Copa type swing. "Another Saturday Night" is pure rock and roll. While "A Change is Gonna Come" is a folk protest song (it was written as an answer to "Blowing in the Wind"), a gospel record and the ultimate soul record all at once.
This song is considered by most to be the height of Cooke's artistry with his soaring tenor stretching over some notes and caressing others all the while buoyed by Rene Hall's beautiful orchestration. The remake of the folk song "The Riddle Song" is almost as good though with Cooke giving the hoary ballad a new and personal meaning with his melismatic and tempered reading. If Cooke hadn't been murdered in December 1964, this record indicates he would have given the Beatles a run for their money as the future of pop music. Like them this music is work that could appeal to teenagers as well as adults. But unlike the Beatles, Cooke's work resonated strongly with African-Americans.
The sound here lives up to this monumental music. Even on a standard CD player you can pick up instruments you had never before in the arrangements. It's a cliche', but they sound like new songs.
All that said, you can pick up almost everything on here on the "Keep Movin' On" compilation. The only two tracks that appear here that don't appear there are "Home (When Shadows Fall)" and "Sittin in the Sun"; They're fine tracks. However, that album has 13 songs that don't appear here including the hits "Shake" and Sugar Dumpling", the brilliant unreleased track "Keep Movin' On" and best of all "That's Where It's At" arguably Cooke's greatest recording along with "Change".
The other collection also has this one beat in packaging as well as content. Since it was also released in the remastered hybrid format, the sound is just as impeccable there. Further, that CD contains several photos and excellent liner notes by Peter Guralnick. Here the only photos are on the covers and the only notes are musician credits. The packaging and the greater number of songs make that the much better buy.
The main audience for this set is people who want to hear the complete album in its original setting. This wasn't sequenced and compiled as a concept album like "Night Beat" but still it's nice to hear a Cooke original from beginning to end. Yet, for most people "Keep Movin On" will give you a better picture of Cooke's late career artistry.