Prime Cuts: I Put a Spell on You, The Way We Were, I'd Rather Go Blind
Overall Grade: 4/5
Jake Cowley has a voice that commands attention. Despite being only 20 years-old, Cowley's voice doesn't belie his age. With the impassionate gravitas of Josh Groban and the expressive versatility of Al Green, Jake Cowley's voice is certainly tailored to sing the great standards from the American songbook. Such a hint has been latent in Cowley's debut album, "The Start," when he did a roof hitting rendition of "You Never Walk Alone." "A Song for You," Cowley's sophomore endeavour, finds the youngster tackling 7 classic love songs such as Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were," Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You," Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," Ben E. King's "I Who Have Nothing," among others.
Nevertheless, a remnant of fans who have had been sold on Cowley's debut record may feel a tad disappointed with this release. "The Start," which features Gordon Mote in the producer's chair, was one of the most promising country-Gospel album of 2015. And to have Cowley taking a recess from the Gospel genre may ruffle the feathers of certain fans in the wrong way. However, genre aside, let's put this 7-song EP under the microscope.
The highlight of the disc is in Cowley's voice. As if the gates were finally lifted, Cowley charges out like an invigorated horse unbridled with a newfound freedom from the first note onwards. Listen to his take on Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." Not only are the high notes imbued with pulverizing passion, the way Cowley ad libs adding some colorful frills to the song is breathtaking. While Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" is a solemn affair, Cowley adds a mid-tempo percussion flow showcasing that he's not just a mere karaoke singer.
Adding to his already kaleidoscopic vocal repertoire is Cowley's take of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." With hues of New Orleans-esque blues interwoven, Cowley proves that he's just as comfortable singing alongside some B. B. King-type of guitar riffs. However, despite having a very expressive voice, Cowley does come across as far too strong on "Over the Rainbow," somehow overpowering the sparse piano backings. Likewise a more measured and nuanced reading would have been better suited for Leon Russell's "A Song for You" in bringing out the loneliness and regrets surrounding this song's plaintive lyrics.
Overall, this is an impressive record. Cowley certainly is blessed with a set of pipes that bring out the grandeur and emotions of these classics. And he's more than just an American-idol wannabe, in each of his undertakings, he also adds his own creative expressions to his songs that are certainly worth checking out.