Given that he's been a professional musician since his high school days, "I'm In The Business", is a particularly apt title for the debut recording from Sam Cockrell & the Groove. It's a meaty slab of contemporary Chicago Blues/Soul/Funk which reflects the influence of previously playing with the likes of B.B. King, James Brown, Rick James, and Johnnie Taylor.
Cockrell has a voice that's often compared to Robert Cray, although Cockrell's is rawer around the edges. This makes it easier for Cockrell to handle the songs that require more power and punch, in addition to the slower more soulful stuff. As well as being a fine singer, Cockrell also plays bass, arranges, writes and produces, all with considerable skill.
There's an impressive guest list of stalwarts from the Chicago scene, including Carl Weathersby, Jimmy Johnson, Maurice John Vaughn and Billy Branch. The core of the band though is Cockrell, Rob Davis (drums), Howard Shaw (saxes), and Chris Forte (guitar). The line-up for the individual songs is adapted and arranged to match the material, however. So, when things need an injection of funk, as on the excellent "I Can't Stand Being Alone", The Big 3 Horns are drafted in. Similarly, on the Bluesier numbers, time and space is created for the guitar (as on the rocking "Having a Good Time") or harp ("Give It Up"). Given the range of musical styles on "I'm In The Business", the arrangements really are highly impressive, and show that Cockrell really knows what he's doing.
Carl Weathersby shares vocals on "Having a Good Time", a song about the trials and tribulations of being on the road. Despite the various problems they describe, however, the experience is ultimately a pleasurable one: hence the title. Weathersby contributes some very nifty Magic Sam style guitar work to this one.
Vocal duties are also shared on "Give It Up", where Billy Branch joins Cockrell. Branch brings his harp to the party too, and drops into the good-rocking Chicago groove straight from the off. For the rest of the CD though, it's just Cockrell on vocals, as he runs the whole gamut from smoldering slow Blues, to funky soul that would comfortably hold its own against the works of Earth Wind and Fire.
With "I'm In The Business" Sam Cockrell has made a flying start to his recording career. Diversity may be his watchword, but Blues remains at the core of what he does. It doesn't matter whether it's a slow Blues (the B.B. King-like "I Know You Still Care About Me"), or something more up-tempo and funky ("Boom--Boom--Boom--Boom") there's a pervasive good time feeling that makes listening to "I'm in the Business" a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.