Album Reviews

The Mike Cotton Sound: The Mike Cotton Sound (RPM)

mike cotton sound

It’s extremely hard to resist the charm of a record like The Mike Cotton Sound’s sole album. A self-titled affair, this record is considered a fine example of mid-sixties era British jazz. It’s also a rather rare record, which makes this expanded reissue—and first appearance on compact disc—doubly worthy of consideration.

Mike Cotton began his career in the 1950s, with the Mike Cotton Jazzmen, a traditional jazz affair. While England was enthralled by America’s R&B and burgeoning rock & roll scenes, Cotton took his cue from jazz. He was very good at it, too, and his combo quickly developed a reputation as a hot live band. But by the early 1960s, the rock and roll scene had become dominated by a group from Liverpool, and suddenly, this group of fab four young men would inspire hundreds of bands to form, and a British Invasion began. Interestingly enough, Cotton’s reputation as a jazzman only grew, and his sound evolved into a British Invasion-style jazz, which led to the group sharing bills with many contemporary groups, including The Beatles.

Listening to The Mike Cotton Sound, it’s easy to understand the appeal. Released at the zenith of Beatlemania and the British Invasion, one might think that a jazz band doing American songs might be a bit idiosyncratic, but it most certainly wasn’t. Their take on contemporary American music was highlighted by a white-hot intensity, turning songs by Herbie Hancock (“Watermelon Man”), Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (“Love Potion #9”), Bill Black (“So What”) and James Brown (“Night Train”) into scorchers that felt like original compositions. It’s a sure sign of talent when one can offer up a cover version in such a way that makes it their own, and that’s exactly what The Mike Cotton Sound did. Interestingly enough, in spite of the album’s lack of original numbers—“Pills” being the only Cotton-penned track—Mike Cotton’s singles included a number of self-penned tracks, most notably the Bo Diddley homage “Beau Dudley” and the funky, organ-driven “Like That.”

After the album’s release, Cotton felt the need to hire a permanent singer—up until then, various members of the band would all “have a go at it”—and that singer came in the form of an American gospel singer by the name of Bruce Lucas, who was a military man stationed in England. His addition brought a new dimension to the band, and with him. Listen to him channel Sam Cooke on “Harlem Shuffle” and “Step Out of Line,” and it’s instantly clear that the new guy was a welcome addition.

Unfortunately, though, the collective nature of the group meant that band members came and went, and by 1970, Mike Cotton was interested in pursuing a harder instrumental rock sound, and the group splintered, with members going on to such bands as Argent and Whitesnake. Still, the brief career and painfully obscureness of The Mike Cotton Sound doesn’t negate from its quality, and this reissue deftly rectifies this and offers up a wonderful rare treat.

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