Billed as a "companion" to the 2016 posthumous collection Heal My Soul, Holding On combines a full live concert from 1999 with five additional studio outtakes. According to Roger Costa, the compilation's producer, these five songs were left off of Heal My Soul "primarily because they didn't quite fit into the flow" and "they were too good not to share." They had been shared once before, on a limited-edition vinyl called Heal My Soul: Bonus Sessions, but the digital release is welcome because they're solid songs, highlighted by the charging "Love Takes Time," the hooky "Every Other Guy," and "All That I Believe," which feels a bit like a conscious re-write of Hootie & the Blowfish. All are nice additions to the Healey catalog and the concert is solid, too – perhaps a little too pristine and polished, but still worthy for Healey heads.
The very title of Joe Cocker's Hymn for My Soul suggests that this, his 2007 studio album, is a gospel affair, or at least something inspired by faith – something that isn't true to the letter, yet there is something true about the spirit of this sentiment, for these are songs that serve as a tonic to Cocker's soul. He's pulled songs from several familiar sources – Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Bob Dylan – and found other newer songs that share a similar sentiment, offering reassuring thoughts in troubled times. While nobody could ever claim that this album – produced by Ethan Johns, son of Glyn – has any grit, it nevertheless is warmer than recent Cocker discs, boasting a soulful heart (even if it has been polished and cleaned until it sparkles). If this isn't enough to bring long-straying Cocker fans back into the fold, it nevertheless is his best record in recent memory, and will satisfy those who have been looking for nothing more than a good, solid album from him, which this surely is.
Raspy avant-garde tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp (who unfortunately also plays some soprano on this date) is the lead voice in a group that sometimes grows to 13 pieces, including four brass players, two keyboards and two percussionists, on this reissue. Two vocals and a poem recitation weigh down the music a bit, although Shepp gets in some good licks. The overall results are not essential, but Archie Shepp was still in his musical prime at the time.
Guitarist Ronnie Earl's realization that you don't need a vocalist to sing the blues freed him up to roam across the vernacular music landscape, dipping into jazz, gospel, and soul, and has made him one of the most innovative and interesting musicians working in contemporary blues. It's hardly a radical step, since scores of jazz musicians have been mining the blues for 80 years without vocalists, and in Earl's case it was a natural shift – maybe even an obvious one given that he has often cited John Coltrane as a predominant influence. On Now My Soul, his second release from Stony Plain Records, Earl moves a bit back to neutral ground on the vocal issue…