"Hymn For My Soul" is one of the finest albums Joe Cocker has ever released. And, he has found the perfect producer for this stage of his career - Ethan Johns. Together, they have created a masterpiece. It is my hope that this partnership will remain in force for a long time.
What makes this album great is a back to basics approach. The album was recorded on tape, with Joe and the musicians all in the same room, and Joe singing live with the band. This brings out the best in Joe's voice. All the nooks and crannies are there, and there is great warmth and presence in the sound. There are no computers, no multi-layered arrangements, and there isn't the slick adult contemporary feel that has been present on recent albums. What we have is Joe singing R&B and ballads as only he can. His voice remains powerful, yet at the same time he is capable of great sensitivity. That is what sets Joe apart from all of the pretenders.
Joe puts his imprint on songs from Stevie Wonder (You Haven't Done Nothin'), Bob Dylan (Ring Them Bells), George Harrison (Beware Of Darkness), John Fogerty (Long As I Can See The Light), The Meters (Love Is For Me), Percy Mayfield (River's Invitation), Solomon Burke (Don't Give Up On Me), The Subdudes (One Word - Peace), old friend Daniel Moore (Just Pass It On), and the title track by Andy Fairweather Low. These are, in many cases, unexpected and inspired song choices.
Some will complain about another "covers" album, but they don't get what Joe is all about. While he has put out a lot of memorable original material, he is at his best when he takes a great song introduced by someone else and sings it his way. After all, isn't that what great interpretive singers do? Would anybody criticize Sinatra for not writing his own material? Others will muse, "there are no true rock songs". Well, Joe has never been a pure rocker. He has always mixed rock, ballads, R&B, even a tinge of country, going back to his days in Sheffield. What is important here is that Joe is singing great, the musicianship is fantastic, and the album is beautifully recorded. At 63, he is showing that he still has it, and has a lot left in the tank.
Right now, HFMS is available only as an import, and will probably released in the US late this year. Hopefully, this album will be the one to catapult Joe back in to the spotlight in the US, and compel the Rock Hall Of Fame and the Grammys to finally give Joe Cocker the recognition he deserves.