Perennially pursuing a "comeback" career, Joe Cocker's latest release, Night Calls, finds him on his way.
Originally renowned for his passionate, ever-twitching performances at Woodstock, Cocker found success in the late '60s and early '70s with bluesy covers of well-known hits _ an extended version of the Box Tops' fave, The Letter, and the Beatles' With a Little Help From My Friends. True Top 40 singles appeared later _ the eloquent You Are So Beautiful and, finally, an award-winning No. 1 mega-smash, Up Where We Belong. It's ironic that Cocker's unique stage presence was defined not only at Woodstock but also by comedian John Belushi on Saturday Night Live; perhaps that is where the comeback truly began.
Regardless of its origins, Cocker strives to maintain and expand his market share with Night Calls. A handful of the music world's most respected producers have Cocker at their disposal for the duration of the record, assembling a plethora of appropriate songs written by established writers.
L.A. whiz Danny Kortchmar has Cocker for the Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away and Gary Wright's Love Is Alive, while Jeff Lynne writes and produces the meandering title song, but it is David Tickle and Chris Lord-Alge who generate the most from their performer.
Lord-Alge is responsible for the best track, John Miles' song, Now That The Magic Has Gone, but Lord-Alge is also burdened with the Bryan Adams/Diane Warren gumball, Feels Like Forever.
David Tickle produces half of Night Calls, some moments good, some moments bad. Cocker's interpretation of Steve Winwood's Can't Find My Way Home is one of the highlights, with Cocker seemingly bred for the song, but in contrast, a version of Elton John/Bernie Taupin's Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me appears ill-timed; both Roger Daltrey and George Michael have covered the song in recent years. Cocker's attempt is easily overshadowed by better-known renditions.
Cocker's intriguing mixture of producers and outside writers provokes curiosity from the listener at least. And the diversity of material on Night Calls _ from subtle country (Out Of The Rain) to thoroughfare rock (Love Is Alive) to affected blues (Prince's Five Women) _ commands attention. Cocker's career outlook is good; supporting Night Calls on the late-night talk-show circuit will be a breeze _ Now That The Magic Has Gone will suit Jay Leno, Five Women will fit Arsenio and You've Got To Hide Your Love Away will woo Letterman; but this same diversity could also be construed as a lack of focus.
Even with a legacy and a catalog as strong as Joe Cocker's, an artist can't be all things to all people.