Black Coffee

Al Kooper

Favored Nations, 2005

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/02/2006

Al Kooper is one of those musicians everybody doesn't know they know.

He played on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and wrote the oldie classic "This Diamond Ring." He was a founding member of Blood, Sweat & Tears and discovered/produced Lynyrd Skynyrd and has played alongside Hendrix, The Who and the Rolling Stones. Yet, he's never received a lot of public acclaim.

Black Coffee is Kooper's first solo disc in 30 years, and the music here is firmly rooted in the past. Kooper (who plays keyboards and guitar, mostly) and the Funky Faculty play older blues, front-porch folk, 80s rock and even some soul, but everything is inspired and loose; never has anyone sounded so happy being so far out of touch with current music. Given Al's track record, and his stellar abilities as a producer and musician, this is not a bad thing.

Really, the only problem here is Al's voice, which sounds like Leon Russell mixed with Randy Newman. The opener "My Hands Are Tied" is a dead ringer for a Newman tune, actually, while "Am I Wrong" has a rustic country charm -- if you listen close, you can almost hear the rocking chair squeak. "How My Ever Gonna Get Over You" is a long ballad, but Kooper's smoky vocals sound more natural here, his ragged voice lending credibility where a smoother singer (say, Michael Buble) might have stripped the song of its meaning.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

By far the best track is the cover of "Get Ready," which blows the originals out of the water. A stomping two-step beat (courtesy of Anton Fig) brings out the bluesy feel but adds a rock element; both were missing in the Rare Earth version, which sounds positively anemic next to this version.

"Keep It To Yourself" uses female backup vocals and spare keyboard to create a sound almost like The Cure, a slow burner with heart and a soulful guitar solo. The band turns in a smoking live cover of the Booker T instrumental "Green Onions," featuring several keyboard and guitar solos squished into a very fast six minutes. "Childish Love" is another highlight, featuring a Robert Fripp-esque riff against a Zeppelin-meets-Police rhythm section, if you can imagine.

The disc only falters in a few places, most notably "Imaginary Lover," where Kooper plays a Steely Dan song but sings it like Michael McDonald. "Another Man's Prize" sounds like an old country or Dylan piece but Kooper sets it to 80s music, thereby stripping it of its meaning. "Just For A Thrill" tries to recapture the mood of "How My..." but is just a rehash, and not a good one at that.

Finally, the cover of Hal Linden's "Got My Ion Hue" tries to be both reggae and rock and nearly pulls both off, while the live "Comin' Back In A Cadillac" begins as a journeyman rock tune ("I don't have a dime / Most people say the way I live is a crime") before descending into several horn and guitar jams, becoming an audience participation tune at the end. It would have been the perfect way to end the disc, but Kooper throws on "(I Want To) Tell You The Truth," which is just average.

Black Coffee is one of those discs that will automatically appeal to other musicians because of Kooper's outsider status and virtuosity on nearly every instrument. But every song here is a different style and the whole thing sounds fresh, original and loose, something missing from most music these days. It's well worth the time to check it out -- and that cover of "Get Ready" is the perfect place to start.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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