Could there be anything more predictable than Joe Cocker releasing a batch of cover songs, lathering up his worn-soul of a voice and working really hard to try to make them his own?
He's been doing it for decades, since he stormed America at Woodstock with his scorching version of The Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends." Throw in his take on the Box Tops' "The Letter" and Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful" - Cocker's signature ballad and a wedding favorite for years - and you have a veritable karaoke machine of an artist.
The problem with "Heart and Soul" is that Cocker allows the arrangements to be burdened with so many strings and sweeteners that his distinctive gravelly voice is buried in the mush.
The song selections also come up short. No one should mess with U2's "One," an emotionally complex song that belongs to the band too much for anyone else to put a stamp on it, or Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," which is too sophisticated an original to try to cover.
Cocker also offers up a by-the-numbers take on Paul McCartney's overwrought "Maybe I'm Amazed" and a clumsy version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."
Only on the bluesy cover of "I Put a Spell On You" does he generate heat and raise the question of why a singer with his chops wouldn't just sing the blues, something he does so well, and stay away from saccharine pop.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
Italian saxophonist di Battista shows his love for the whole bebop era, nailing uptempo classics such as "Salt Peanuts" and "Donna Lee" while giving a multi-faceted swing to slower numbers such as "Night in Tunisia." Six of the 10 songs on the album are written by either Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie, plus there are standards by George and Ira Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, and others. di Battista leads a talent-packed quintet on a stunning collaboration.
- TOM HENRY
Even the title of Mathis' latest disc takes you back to the days of smooth crooners and timeless songs. He begins with the title cut and a nicely restrained vocal wrapped in orchestration, picks up the pace to swing on "Day By Day," and adds a Latin taste with "Dindi." Things begin to go askew when Mathis takes on "There's A Kind Of Hush." He slows it down and orchestrates it to within an inch of its musical life. And since when did this become a "standard"? Mathis is one of the premier vocalists around, but here, mostly because of the song selection, he isn't at his best.
- RICHARD PATON
The Grammy-winning folk/country/rock singer-songwriter concentrates her talents here on two disparate subjects - war and love. She glances back at the Vietnam War to find contemporary meaning with current American military involvement, giving herself another forum to espouse an anti-war stance. However, she somehow finds a counterpoint to wartime with the uncertainties of love and relationships. Love doesn't always succeed, sometimes falling short of the desired goal, no different than military conflict. The simple musical backgrounds provide enjoyable melodies to enhance the emotion of each song.
- KEN ROSENBAUM