* * * "UNCHAIN MY HEART." Joe Cocker. Capitol. Good news for Cocker fans: The old mad-dog Englishman is back with far and away his strongest effort since Nixon was in the White House. Working with the team that oversaw James Brown's last effort, Cocker has recaptured the power of his glory days without sounding like a nostalgia-monger.
Executive producer Dan Hartman and producer Charlie Midnight have wisely steered clear of both the drippy ballads that have given Cocker his only hits of the last dozen or so years and the overkill rock modernizations of last year's "Shelter Me." Instead, Cocker sticks largely to the kind of upbeat, Ray Charles-inspired material with which he first made his name.
On the title cut and the rousing Hartman-Midnight composition "Satisfied," Cocker's growly voice is actually richer and more flexible than ever. And on the heartfelt "Isolation," the singer re-establishes himself as perhaps the preeminent interpreter of the Lennon and/or McCartney catalogue.