Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Continuing on from our recent examination of Sam Cooke’s classic ‘Ain’t That Good News’, for the latest instalment in the series we take a look at the soul legend’s 1964 set ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’.
If the best live albums are those which confirm their authors to be consummate professionals in their artistic fields, then ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’ must surely constitute a highly successful example of that style. Recorded and released in 1964, this collection is more than a simple selection of songs – it’s a performance in the most traditional sense of that word; one in which Cooke chats and chuckles to his audience as, with an off-hand ease, he regales them with stories in song, evoking laughter from surely all those who watch him. He slips between effortless, downright conversational intimacy and grandiose, booming intensity as easily as his band shimmy between richly harmonious jazz and urgently shuffling soul, with all involved giving performances which suggest no shortage of rehearsal. ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’ is ultimately a product of its time, just as so much music from its – and, truthfully, any other – era is. Save for a clutch of self-consciously retro throw-backers, music like this simply isn’t made any more and, from that perspective, this live set serves as a fascinating sonic time-capsule. But, more than that, it’s also an energetic and deeply engaged performance from one of the most respected artists of his generation and that, quite frankly, is enough to render it a significant album in anyone’s books.
As those who read our Vinyl Corner review of Sam Cooke’s ‘Ain’t That Good News’ will remember, this recent wave of reissues from the late soul legend have been pressed to weighty black vinyl and offer fresh remastering to go along with their evident quality control. In the case of ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’, we found a few strands of paper and general debris from the manufacturing process on the surfaces – as well as a few minor visual imperfections – but these were easily pushed aside with a carbon fibre brush, leaving the record clean and lustrous. Playback yielded similarly impressive results, with our copy boasting a low noise floor and a commendable lack of surface noise. Indeed, we heard nothing across the full breadth of this collection to distract from its crisp sonics and full-bodied mastering. As with the recent reissue of ‘Ain’t That Good News’, ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’ benefits from commandingly direct mastering in which Cooke’s rich vocals are brought to the fore – exactly where they should be – without compromising the sonic integrity of the instruments that back him.
As with the recent reissue of ‘Ain’t That Good News’, the packaging of ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’ is likely not quite as impressive as the 1964 original pressing, if only because that issue probably come in a heavyweight tip-on cover. By contrast, this reissue is presented in a mid-weight standard non-gatefold sleeve more typical of modern releases. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself though as the cover does at least feel solid in hand and it also looks great, with sharp print quality and bold colours. As with the contemporaneous reissue of ‘Ain’t That Good News’, there is a barcode printed directly onto the back cover and, as per usual, we would rather have seen that attached to the shrinkwrap as a sticker but ultimately that’s a minor complaint. More important by far is that the package is rounded off with a highly-attractive fold out full-colour insert offering images of Cooke in addition to informative liner notes. It’s additions such as these which help separate a truly great reissue from an average one, so it’s naturally a welcome inclusion to find such an insert here. The record itself is sleeved in a generic, non-polylined paper sleeve, so caution is advised when removing the record and, as always in such instances, we would recommend swapping it out for a polylined inner.
This recent reissue of ‘Sam Cooke At The Copa’ is another impressive rerelease which does much to keep Cooke’s legacy alive. Those who wish to submerge themselves in the distinctive artistic stylings of mid-’60s America would find as much to enjoy here as those who prefer their soul music raw, emotive and resolutely old-school. All such punters will doubtless be more than satisfied with this consummate reissue.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!