Perhaps it’s only right that Sam Moore, known almost universally as one-half of soul music’s most famous duo, Sam and Dave, should burst back onto the scene with an album of collaborations. But unlike some “tribute” collections in which a gaggle of guest stars work with a legend, this one hangs together very well.
Moore, always one of soul’s greatest tenor voices, sounds as good as ever. The years seem to have cost him little if any range, and his 70-year-old pipes haven’t lost their physical and emotional power. The song choices are generally inspired. And Randy Jackson’s production must get some of the credit for the artistic success of this project too. This is a Sam Moore album, not a bunch of forced-sounding duets. Abetted by guests from Wynonna and Springsteen to Bon Jovi and Fantasia, Moore and Jackson bring gospel-flavored joyfulness to songs both old (like the Aretha Franklin chestnut “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied),” written by the man who signed Sam and Dave, Ahmet Ertegun) and modern (“If I Had No Loot”). The sound is bouncy and smooth yet not unduly slick. It’s old-school soul at its best, with a universally appealing brightness.
The key is that you could listen to this CD without the liner notes and not be distracted by the different voices that join Sam’s. (“Say, I guess that is Springsteen on “Better To Have and Not Need”! Is that Sam, or Steve Winwood, singing the high part on Paul Carrack’s “Ain’t No Love”?) It’s as if the most soulful songwriters from various walks of musical life were magically deposited right where they belong. Even Sting, whose distinctive yelp sometimes sticks out too much in duets, sounds all right in the old Ray Charles tune “None Of Us Are Free,” and Mariah Carey and Vince Gill team up for some exquisite backing vocals on what may be my favorite track of all, Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe.”
Which brings us to the late Billy Preston, who contributed one of his very last performances here, singing his own composition “You Are So Beautiful” along with Sam in a rendition that stands up well next to – although nothing can replace – Joe Cocker’s definitive classic. With Eric Clapton contributing a guitar solo, Robert Randolph on pedal steel, and Billy himself on piano, Preston and Moore wring every drop of emotion out of this simple and beautiful song. Preston’s voice sounds angelic, almost ghostly. It’s a fitting close to a truly fine, and in fact downright inspiring, set of music.