Black Coffee Al Kooper
CD Review by Brian McAlley
years after the release of his last solo album, Al Kooper is back with
Black Coffee, a superb collection of expertly-crafted tunes that showcase
Mr. Kooper's multi-faceted musical talents along with his deep affection
for rhythm and blues.
though it's been 30 years since the release of his last solo album, he
has maintained his presence on the music scene through writing, producing,
performing and teaching. Over the years, Kooper has stockpiled an arsenal
of approximately 140 original songs, nine of which were selected to be
recorded for Black Coffee. The set was produced and arranged by Kooper,
who is backed on eight of the fourteen tracks by The Funky Faculty (Bass
- Tom Stein, Drums - Larry Finn, Horns - Jeff Stout & Daryl Lowery,
Guitar - Bob Doezema). The band is comprised of actual professors from
the Berklee College of Music in Boston where Kooper himself was an instructor
for a number of years, and they have a tight, funky, R&B sound that
serves as the perfect companion to Mr. Kooper's soulful material. On the
remaining tracks, Kooper plays all the instruments himself with the exception
of "Get Ready," where he is joined by drummer Anton Fig.
My Ever Gonna Get Over You" is a lush ballad featuring the smooth
alto sax of Daryl Lowery and some fabulous keyboard work by Kooper. "Going,
Going, Gone," co-written by Kooper and Dan Penn, is a somewhat humorous
take on the passage of time and getting old, set to a slow funky groove
with an infectious melody. "Keep
It To Yourself," one of my favorite tracks is a slow blues with Kooper
once again playing all the instruments and laying down a smooth, soulful
vocal. This number has a strong similarity to the later work of Steely
Dan (the classic Aja album comes to mind) with it's subtle jazzy texture
and seductive backup harmonies.
Next, Mr. Kooper serves up some rock and roll stew with his treatment of The Temptations' classic hit "Get Ready," after which he slows things down once again with the soulful and sexy "Imaginary Lover," co-written by Kooper and Sandi Stewart. The highlight of this tune is Mr. Kooper's stunning falsetto, which reminds one very much of The Stylistics. It's worth mentioning that the vocals throughout the album are all outstanding, as Mr. Kooper uses his vocal range to inject every song with true emotion. Up next, from his Norwegian tour of 2001 comes a smoking, live performance of "Green Onions," the classic instrumental by Booker T & the MGs. Mr. Kooper wails on the Hammond B3 and Bob Doezema rips through a tough, piercing guitar solo as the Funky Faculty lay down some heavy grooves in the background. This is an outstanding live track.
rest of the disc follows suite with more top-notch material including
a beautifully arranged cover of the Ray Charles hit "Just For A Thrill,"
written by the great Lil Hardin Armstrong and Don Raye, plus another outstanding
live cut entitled "Comin' Back in a Cadillac," a ten-minute
Kooper original that really cooks. The album is capped off with yet another
notable Kooper composition, the soulful ballad "(I Want You To) Tell
Me The Truth," which is dedicated to the memory of Rick Danko and
Richard Manuel formerly of The Band.