Hymn For My Soul, the newest album from legendary singer Joe Cocker, unites Cocker, possessor of one of the world's most instantly recognizable and iconic voices (Lennon & McCartney's With A Little Help From My Friends, anyone?), with Ethan Johns, who has proved both his worth and his Midas touch via albums he's produced for, among others, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams, Razorlight, Kings of Leon, and Ray LaMontagne. The union has resulted in one of the most accomplished pieces of work in the Sheffield-born singer's long and illustrious career, and one played by arguably the most stellar band to be assembled in a recording studio anywhere in the world in recent times.
Among them are drummers Jim Keltner (uniformly viewed as the best session drummer in the world, a man who played with John Lennon and Bob Dylan), and James Gadson (as well as producing classic albums for the soul star Bill Withers, he drummed on hit recordings by artists ranging from Gladys Knight to Justin Timberlake). Also present are Tom Petty's pianist Benmont Tench, former Jethro Tull keyboard player Dave Palmer, bassist Bob Babbitt (member of Motown Records' studio band The Funk Brothers in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and hence a player on more seminal recordings than can be listed here), and Hammond organist Mike Finnigan (who played with Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland). Completing the all-star line-up on backing vocals are Merry Clayton (once one of Ray Charles's Raelettes, she sang on the Stones' Gimme Shelter), Tata Vega, Julia Waters, her brother Oren Waters, and Jim Gilstrap.
The uniformly blues / gospel-ish material on Hymn For My Soul spans the decades. In addition to the classic Bob Dylan track ‘Ring Them Bells' there are vintage songs by Stevie Wonder (‘You Haven't Done Nothin'), George Harrison (‘Beware Of Darkness'), and John Fogerty's (‘Long As I Can See The Light').
There are tracks associated with veteran soul legends too, notably Art Neville and The Meters (Love Is For Me), Solomon Burke (Don't Give Up On Me), and Percy Mayfield (Rivers Invitation). But there are also two selections from the recent past, namely those by New Orleans group The Subdudes (One Word (Peace)), and Andy Fairweather-Low (the titular Hymn 4 My Soul). Recorded at L.A.'s Sunset Sound Studios and sung, played, and produced to near-perfection, they represent the best work that Cocker has done in years. The last track on the album, the only song not produced by Johns, is Cocker's version of The Beatle's ‘Come Together,' which was featured in the Oscar nominated movie, Across The Universe.
"I'm very grateful to Ethan for taking me to a new space. This is the most musical record I've made in a very long time," says Cocker. And the feeling is obviously mutual as Johns agrees, "I can hardly begin to tell you how good I think Hymn For My Soul is. Let's just say it's the most emotional and even spiritual project I've worked on in a long while."
Clearly, the only sensible option now is to listen to it for yourself...