From the tattered quality of his voice to the tattered quality of his life, Joe Cocker in his vintage period (say '69-'75) evoked sympathy as much as he evoked pleasure; the former, in fact, was arguably inextricable from the latter. Since he's gotten his life together, his albums have suffered from over-togetherness. Hard Knocks doesn't. Together though he is, Cocker has selected songs that connect him to the years when every day was a struggle the outcome of which was uncertain. And he sings them the same way.
Fourteen guilty pleasures and/or golden oldies as arranged for small, acoustic ensemble and one 69-year-old baritone voice-all but one of which the possessor of the baritone voice didn't write. And somehow it works. One reason is the material's eclecticism (underexposed Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson balancing overexposed Beatles and Eagles). Another is the sense one gets that Diamond is singing these songs late at night to himself rather than during prime time to the adoring millions who've made him one of the top-grossing live acts of all time.
One errs if he pays too much attention to the lyrics because, perfectly functional though they are, they aren't the point. What is: big hooks, rocking beats, exhilarating harmonies, and a mastery of musical execution that would've made the Preachers a heavy-rotation radio staple back in the day when radio mattered. Still, as lyrics go, "We've all become our personal gods / We've all become so sad and lost" and "This life, it sucks your principles away / You have to fight against it every single day" aren't bad.
Released to coincide with the publication of Keith Richards' autobiography, this collection from three solo albums released between 1988 and 1992 proves there was plenty more in the way of rough-hewn grooves and country-folk plaints where Richards' solo turns for the Rolling Stones came from. Unfortunately, haphazard selection and sequencing still make Talk Is Cheap (from which half of these "vinos" were culled) the Richards album to get if you're going to get just one.
So pitch-perfect are Paul Shanklin's socio-political musical parodies that one might think God has permitted rock 'n' roll to exist simply to provide grist for Shanklin's mill. On his new album, Barack Hussein Obama's Songs of the Revolution, the official satirist of Rush Limbaugh's E.I.B. Network transforms Simon & Garfunkel's "I Am a Rock" into Barack Obama's "I Am Barack," Billy Joel's "She's Always a Woman" into Bill Clinton's "She's Always a Hillary," and Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" into "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's 'New York, New York,'" the hilarity of which derives as much from Shanklin's voiceprint-worthy singing as it does his liberal-tweaking lyrics.
And as Limbaugh listeners know, Shanklin also delivers skits (like the recurring "Justice Brothers" routines featuring Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton), and on this album-as on Shanklin's others-they provide ideal song-to-song segues. Not that the songs need the help. The highest high point: "Dancing Queen" by Abba transformed into "Banking Queen" by Barney Frank.