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Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up On Me


Solomon Burke

Album: Don't Give Up On Me
Label: Anti/Fat Possum

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Solomon Burke never became a household name. On the pop charts, his biggest hit, 1965's "Got To Get You Off My Mind," peaked at No. 22. In concert, however, he regularly appeared in robes and a crown, staging mock coronations that reminded audiences of his title, "King Of Rock 'N' Soul." Who could object? Others may have sold more records and made more innovative use of the '60s soul sound, but anyone in search of the real deal invariably came back to Burke. Even his life reflected the classic soul tension between religious rapture and earthly desires: A preacher from childhood, he fathered 21 children. The times changed, but Burke didn't. While still making records in the classic mold, he continued his ministerial and entrepreneurial interests. (This is the man who used to sell Bibles at his concerts, and who ran a fried-chicken concession inside his tour bus.) Now the times have circled back—or so it would seem, listening to Don't Give Up On Me, a stunning comeback album made the old-fashioned, live-in-the-studio way by producer and fan Joe Henry, with songwriting contributions from famous admirers. Burke's vocal powers show no sign of fading, nor do his powers of interpretation. Brian Wilson, co-writing with Andy Paley, may not seem like an immediate choice for a Solomon Burke album, but on "Soul Searchin'," Burke narrows the divide between soul and surf until it's nonexistent. On "Only A Dream," and especially "Fast Train," Burke does better by Van Morrison than Morrison usually does by himself these days. And contributions from Henry, Nick Lowe, Bob Dylan, and two husband/wife teams (Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, Elvis Costello and Cait O'Riordan) all retain their distinctive authorial voices, while still sounding like songs Burke was meant to sing. With the spotlight firmly planted on singer and song, Henry keeps the production lean, reminding the world how powerful the combination of the right man, the right band, and the right studio can sound. (Especially with a once and future king to help the argument.) Burke could probably invest feeling into the Faith Hill catalog, so giving him a track like "None Of Us Are Free" seems almost dangerous. Co-written by Brenda Russell and the old-school team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, "Free" hearkens back to the era of message songs. While the sentiment might be vague, the meaning remains unmistakable—and with Burke, now as before, no one can miss the point.