When Sam Cooke launches into “Feel It (Don’t Fight It),” it’s clear this isn’t going to be your average live album. There’s an immersive, raw quality to this 1963 recording of Cooke at The Harlem Square Club in Miami; it’s a breath of fresh air in our current climate of over-produced, yet consistently underwhelming pop music. Through the stage banter and loose-then-tight band arrangements, he manages to capture what makes seeing an artist “live” so special; the idea that anything and everything can happen.
Though the running time is a little over 35 minutes, it feels more like 10. Cooke blazes through these songs like a madman, barely giving the band (or audience) time to catch their breath. This is the grittier side of Cooke, his silky smooth vocals replaced by the harsher sounds of a man living on the road and performing night after night, club after club. “Cupid” is a great example of this, the loose band alongside Cooke’s gravely voice giving it the punch it lacks on the studio recording. That’s not to say there aren’t some slower moments, though; the “It’s All Right/For Sentimental Reasons” medley gives Cooke a chance to croon a little to the crowd, receiving raucous applause in return. There’s also the classic blues/soul number “Bring It On Home To Me,” where Cooke commands the band to follow him with airtight precision before breaking into one of his greatest vocal performances on record.
Analog Spark are a self proclaimed “audiophile imprint that is focused on the reissue of classic and acclaimed albums on 180-gram vinyl and SACD” and judging by this release, they are 100% correct. The sound on this album is as good as it gets, with little to no surface noise and crisp highs and lows. In listening to the album on Spotify, I MUCH prefer the sound on this medium to digital. There are some issues with clipping and oversaturation present, but they are due to the album being recorded in 1963 with less than stellar equipment. If you’re not a fan of live recordings or have low tolerance for some crowd noise, I would suggest listening to a track or two before purchase.
Another high point here. The gatefold sleeve is very heavy, with thick cardboard on all sides, but not to the point where it’s difficult to remove the record. Inside, there’s a treasure trove of picture and newspaper clippings, as well as an essay about the album by biographer Peter Guralnick. The vinyl itself is very heavy at 180-gram, and sits in an audiophile-grade plastic sleeve. This is the template for how every record should be made and gives you tremendous bang for your buck at under $30.