Sam Cooke began his career as a gospel singer, and after two pop-oriented LPs, the label and Cooke's producers, Hugo & Luigi, decided to play to that side of his repertoire and reputation for this, his third album. Certainly opening the album with the traditional spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and using it as the title track was an acknowledgment of his history. Despite some intersections with his gospel roots and his past history with the Soul Stirrers, however, this album isn't quite what one would expect from its title -- most of Swing Low consists of pop repertoire (including Broadway material), albeit songs that have a devotional, reflective aspect, or a spiritual tone, and the production is very full, if not quite as overblown as some of the songs recorded elsewhere in Cooke's RCA library. The choir and brass are slightly overdone on the title song, but almost everything else is a study in understatement that plays to the quiet strength in Cooke's voice -- "I'm Just a Country Boy," "They Call the Wind Maria" (from Paint Your Wagon), "Twilight on the Trail," and "If I Had You" combine with the title song and the single "Chain Gang" to make side one of this album a masterpiece of subtlety, and one of the high points of Cooke's early LP output. If parts of his other early-'60s RCA albums represent a tragedy of wasted opportunities, through bad song choices or worse arrangements, Swing Low falls on the other side of that line, bringing home what could (and should) have been -- one hears a phenomenal talent moving in almost precisely the right direction. Side two is a little weaker in focus, digressing back to a trio of 19th century chestnuts, "Grandfather's Clock," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," and "Long, Long Ago," which Cooke's voice does elevate. And then we get to Johnnie Taylor's "Pray," the highlight of the album in Cooke's hands, and a song and performance that bring the focus back where it should be. The album closes with "You Belong to Me," an original by Cooke and J.W. Alexander, and the Antonin Dvorák-spawned spiritual "Goin' Home" -- the arrangement of the latter almost swings a little too much, but finally comes off well, and both can be counted among the finest things Cooke ever cut for a long-player and, along with "Pray," among his must-own performances. In contrast to many of the singer's early RCA LPs, where one must pick and choose the jewels from among weaker moments, Swing Low is the man and the voice in much of their glory across most of the album.