Picks and Pans Review: Cocker

updated 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Joe Cocker

Old-line Cocker fans may lament the loss of the raw, larynx-scouring growl that was once his singing style. But he has shown, on his previous album (A Civilized Man) and on this one, a maturing ability to blend his blues sensibilities with a more conventional approach to pop songs. Not that he has turned into Perry Como. On Shelter Me, for instance, he all but roars a plea for help in that familiar rough voice. Most of the other songs are on the quiet side. If a couple, notably A to Z, are over-arranged and too slick, Cocker does a gutsy job on the 1971 Marvin Gaye hit Inner City Blues and adds a touch of worldly wisdom to Terry Manning's Heaven. Cocker also renews his affinity for Randy Newman's songs. (Cocker's version of I Think It's Gonna Rain Today is a career high point.) This time he performs You Can Leave Your Hat On with a seductive approach that hits perfectly on the offhand sexiness of Newman's lyrics: "Baby, takeoff your coat/Real slow/Don't take off your shoes/I'll take off your shoes/Baby, take off your dress/Yes, yes, yes." Cocker still could use a musician or two to fill the roles of early collaborators Chris Stainton and Leon Russell. Journey guitarist Neal Schon, saxophonist Mel Collins, keyboardist Jeff Lorber and bassist Randy Jackson appear here, though only for a few tracks. But Cocker gets along pretty well even without too much help from his friends. Nobody is better at reading meaning into a song, and at 41, he seems to be fitting nicely into an elder statesman role, dispensing worldly wisdom as someone who has an idea what the blues are. (Capitol)

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