Album of Week 52 (and the year)

To close out this year's week-by-week album selections, as I mentioned in a previous post, I have decided to name the album that influenced me the most this year, regardless of release date. And boy have there been many. Runners up would be Bonnie "Prince" Billy's The Letting Go, Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, Josh Ritter's Hello Starling, Son Volt's Okemah and the Melody of Riot and Jason Isbell's Sirens of the Ditch, along with some Everly Brothers and many more.

But in the year 2008 there was one record and ultimately one artist who changed my listening habits. This is an artist I've always liked, but never fully explored. His music this year dug deep in many ways. His songs bring me back to my childhood. His words make me hopeful and for lack of a better word, happy. His voice seems beyond the delivery of any normal person's vocal chords. His songs have range in sound, emotion and meaning, yet they are as simple and tender as anything I've ever heard.

Like many of the greats, he died far too young and the facts around his death in a shoddy Los Angeles motel remain unclear. But with only 33 years behind him, Sam Cooke's music is as relevant today as it was at any time. His songs are not just timeless, but almost always timely. And there are just so many of them: "Chain Gang", "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Just For You", "Cupid", "Bring It On Home To Me", "Meet Me at Mary's Place", "Nothing Can Change This Love", "Another Saturday Night", "Jesus Gave Me Water", "Having a Party" and "Tennessee Waltz", to name just a few. The number of truly great songs in such a short life is remarkable.

Sam Cooks is arguably the greatest singer to have ever lived. To my ears, there's very little argument here. Add to that the pure, steady and heartfelt songs that he wrote, and you have one of the most important musicians to have ever lived. And in 2008, the following record impacted me more than any other:

Sam Cooke : Portrait of a Legend 1951 - 1964
Abkco, 2003