sam, the solo soul survivor

It's been a long time since the Sam & Dave rocket burned out, but Sam Moore is finally coming back

August 31, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Sam Moore is one of the last soul survivors.

Back in the day, he shared stages with Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Johnnie Taylor and other greats. To baby boomers and soul fanatics, Moore is primarily known as half of the '60s duo Sam & Dave, whose classics include "Hold On! I'm Comin'," "Soul Man," "I Thank You" and "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."

But the duo's hot streak cooled as the '70s dawned. Drugs, fights over money and creative differences eventually drove the two apart for good in 1980. And Dave Prater died in a car crash eight years later.

Now, after nearly 50 years in the business, Moore has finally gotten around to re-establishing a solo career. His new album Overnight Sensational was, to quote one of his influences, Sam Cooke, a "long time coming."

"The concept had started actually 24 years ago," Moore explains. "That was after I first left Dave in 1969 and did the solo album with King Curtis that didn't come out. [Plenty Good Lovin', Moore's "lost" 1970 solo record, was finally released to wide acclaim in 2002.] After that, I was trying to do another album."

But the '70s and '80s weren't kind to the singer as he slipped into obscurity and battled drug addiction. He was without a record deal, and the occasional reunions with Prater drew little attention. Moore didn't enjoy a real career resurgence until 1991 when "Rainy Night in Georgia," a duet with Conway Twitty, appeared on the Top 10 album Rhythm, Country and Blues. That same year the Rhythm and Blues Foundation gave him a Pioneer Award. In 1992, Sam & Dave were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Later in the year, Moore made a memorable appearance on Bruce Springsteen's mostly forgettable Human Touch album, which led to steady session work and concert dates in the United States and overseas.

Now, after the recent deaths of soul stalwarts Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett, Moore is keeping the flame, so to speak. Produced by American Idol's Randy Jackson, Overnight Sensational is a sometimes-spirited attempt to reintroduce Moore's amazing, gospel-fire vocals to the pop world.

"I'm at an age where I can't sing songs about some young girl ... ," the artist says. "Man, I'm 70 years old. I've been in the business long enough to reach back and find songs people want to walk out on the street singing, songs about love and happiness."

Following the template used to revive Santana's career, Overnight Sensational is a guest-heavy album featuring performers from various genres - from country-pop to urban contemporary. It's a formula that was also used on Charles' last album, the tepid, Grammy-winning Genius Loves Company.

"I was really too embarrassed to ask all these artists to come on the album," Moore says. "But the word got out, and people wanted to contribute, which is great."

The 20 guest stars include Vince Gill, Mariah Carey, Sting, Steve Winwood, Nikka Costa, Van Hunt, Sheila E. and Fantasia.

"I saw her on American Idol," Moore says of tart-voiced singer Fantasia, with whom he revives Milli Vanilli's "Blame It On the Rain." "I wasn't sure about her. I wanted somebody who wasn't just going to scream a song. Randy had to convince me to open my mind to all these collaborators, including Fantasia. She can belt, but I didn't know. What Randy got out of her, though, was remarkable."

It's indeed one of the few standout tracks on the contrived album. Moore's vocals, though, are amazingly agile. That churchy, passion-soaked fervor with which he sang in the 1960s remains intact. It perfectly complements Wynonna's throaty croon on the spare remake of Ann Peebles' 1973 classic, "I Can't Stand the Rain." Throughout the album, though, you wish the focus was more on the soul legend. He certainly has the charisma and the knockout voice to carry a project on his own. Moore is philosophical about his role these days.

"I don't belong in the world with the Mary J. Bliges and Beyonces and Ushers," he says. "That's hip-hop; that's young. I'm trying to do good music and get a message across. I'm gonna get my big, fat, funky [butt] on stage and sing and have fun. That's all I wanna do, man."

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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