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Monday, December 22, 2014

JOE COCKER, RIP



Joe Cocker had a voice that was rust and whiskey through and through, a soulful rasp and a bellicose roar that could make a songwriter's lyric seem to surrender a greater hurt, a greater passion, a more profound ache than mere definitions and vocaliizations, no matter how ardent, would usually reveal. There was something nearly cartoonish in his take on the blues-shouter tradition, the area of gospel-informed geniuses Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin came from and changed the way pop singers regarded singing. Where his influences had mastered their technique and honed their emotions to suit the timbre, pitch and range of their voices, and learned the subtle art of varying the use of the shout, the rasp, the corrosive croon, the melismatic technique of stretching words and even elongating syllables within words to suggest the tonal groans, cries and whispers of a human voice connected to unambiguous pain and joy, Cocker tossed much of that out the window when he came to the microphone and let loose a hard, blistering, sustained rage ; his voice was like one large gun aimed at a wall of hard experience, each bunker busting shell intended to blow it all to hell. He wasn't going to tell you about his experiences, he seemed intent to make you live them. It was raw, unnerving, exhilarating, unsullied in its prickly graininess even when he did the most treacly material. In his best moments, his bracing presentation of self-was a thing of wonder that stayed in your memory a lifetime.

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