on April 2, 2003
On the 31st of January 2003 I went to concert that double featured a seemingly very unusual combination - The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (a hard rock band with over-the-top Blues mannerism) and Solomon Burke, a legendary Soul singer from the 60s. I came to see Jon Spencer - but I left with memories of Solomon Burke as one of the most amazing performers I've ever encountered. The deep, rich voice, the energetic personality (even though he sat on a chair and rarely got up during the entire show!) and most of all, Burke's showmanship, the way he cast his spell on the crowd, were simply unrivaled.
This CD captures as much as possible of that magical spirit. It has Burke at his best - crispy clear, enthusiastic and focused. It has sharp, minimalist back up band (along with special guests such as 'The Blind Boys of Alabama' and Daniel Lenois). It doesn't hurt that it has some of today's finest songwriters contributing songs to it.
I find it interesting that the target audience for Burke's latest is solidly the Rock/Alternative Rock crowd. Burke, a little like Hendrix, is now firmly in the predominantly white rock camp. I suspect there is an interesting social message in that - but let us get back to the music, for it is very nearly divine.
The music rages from the brittle blues of the title track, through the folky Fast Train, ..., Jazz-Soul (Flesh and Blood) and something approaching Gospel (the sublime none of us are free).
The only weak track here is from another 60s relic, Brian Wilson's Soul Searching, which proves that not everyone has a place in the comeback market - go back to the Beach Boys Reunion tours where you belong, Brian!
Everything else varies between the very good and the sublime. Van Morrison contributes two tracks, both of which appear on his latest CD. The first one, Fast Train is particularly good. Joe Henry's Flesh and Blood is dark, slow and atmospheric. Both the Costello contribution and Lowe's song (The Other Side of the Coin) are good. I'd say Lowe is better - the lyrics seem fresher, and the music a little more catchy.
Three songs deserve special attention. Tom Waits is one of the most versatile, thoughtful and clever songwriters of our time. 'Diamond in Your Mind' is one of his best songs - it keeps away from the over the top humor of songs like 'Better Not Married' and 'Goin' Out West' for the simple beautiful melody (a la Alice and I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You). Burke is truly into it - he performs with real passion, careful in the verses and explosive during the choruses, especially in the stunning ending ("one more time" Burke shouts, and the band launches into the chorus again).
Bob Dylan is a man who needs no introduction. Stepchild is a song from the late 70s, which was sometimes performed with the grand band Dylan had during the 'Street Legal' tour. It has been abandoned after Dylan's conversion to Christianity, and like most of the late 70s pre-Jesus stuff, has not been played live since. It is nice to know Dylan hasn't forgotten this song, which is a funky-bluesy gem. Burke's interpretation is masterful (as usual) on this one - his references to Dylan ("Whatever you want you know I'm willin'/But I sure can't be Bob Dylan") perfectly capture the humorous I-got-knockdown-but-I'll-get-up feel of the song.
Arguably the best song in the CD 'None of Us are Free' is one before last. It has a poetic social theme straight out of John Donne (None of us are free/If one of us is chained), a long with a powerful melody. This is a Gospel number, and appropriately that the Blind Boys of Alabama are featured as back up vocalist. The refrain is addictive and, as Burke says in the liner notes, he could've gone on with it all night.
Interestingly, instead of ending in this epic note, the powers that be chose as final number the intimate 'Sit This One Out'. I probably would have preferred 'None of Us Are Free' as a last song, but I understand the decision - it is a personal statement from the fatherly Burke, in the best tradition of Soul and Gospel, that we can overcome, and that we will prevail. Amen.
on November 21, 2002
The best male R&B album of the year has recently been released and it is not by a fresh, new voice but by this 66 year-old member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Unless you are an R&B maven, chances are you, like us, are more familiar with Solomon Burke's name and reputation than you are with his work. He never had a Top 20 hit, thus never achieved the popularity of some of his contemporaries, say Percy Sledge or Clarence Carter. Nevertheless, when the roll of the great soul singers is called, his name is invariably among them. Burke sings with what the liner notes so accurately refer to as `passionate restraint'. Although his vocals display the same intensity as Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, they seem much more effortless, as natural as a lion's roar. What makes this album so special and what we imagine will be the pinnacle of Burke's career is that nearly every song has been written especially for him by some of the great songwriters of our time. Dan Penn, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Joe Henry, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Nick Lowe, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil...that's a rock & roll hall of fame right there. And Burke puts his own inimitable stamp on each. Backed by a powerhouse band including Burke's church organist Rudy Copeland and inobtrusively produced by Joe Henry, this gives the whippersnappers something to shoot for.
on August 6, 2002
The great Atlantic R n'B producer Jerry Wexler was once asked who he thought was the greatest of all the soul giants he had worked with.He answered "Solomon Burke, with a good band". Well Solomon's got a great band working with him here. Under the spare,sympathetic production of Joe Henry,this studio outfit smoulders under the slow burn genius of Solomon Burke. I'm not much given to hyperbole, but I truly believe that this CD can stand with any of the classic Stax or Atlantic masterpieces of the 60's you'd care to name. It's just that good.Right from the git go on Dan Penn's title tune, the Reverend Burke serves notice that he has lost none,none, of his power and charisma as a song stylist. From that first organ chord you are transplanted to a better place.If anything age has improved Solomon Burkes voice.He has lost none of the gospel melisma of his youth and employs it with panache on the two Van Morrison tracks "Fast Train", and "Only A Dream".But time has added a patina of grit and gruffness that enable Solomon to tackle Tom Wait's joyous "Diamond In Your Mind" with a Louis Armstrong growl and Joe Henry's "Flesh And Blood" like an uptown bluesman in the Jimmy Witherspoon mold,while still sounding like himself.Many great songsmith's contributed to this CD,so let's blast through with some instant grades for the composers.Solomon gets an A+ for his singing. Okay.... Dan Penn (and friends) get an A for the churchy title tune. Van gets two A's for his gospel songs. Waits gets an A, he's hilarious.Brian Wilson gets a B for his Doo-Woppy "Soul Searchin".Elvis Costello gets a C- for "The Judgement" cuz there's no tune there.The Dylan song is a C but why did the producer pick it in the first place? Nick Lowe 's "Other Side Of The Coin" is an A+.Just perfect.Mann-Weill's "None Of Us Are Free rates an A cuz it's like a Staples song you think you've missed.And finally an unknown Pick Purcell gets an A for the soulful "Sit This One Out".I'm hoping this CD is a financial success so that others like Wilson Pickett and William Bell might be inspired to come out with something this good. Soul music is alive and well and it's name is Solomon Burke.
on August 16, 2002
The "King of Rock & Soul" ascends his throne in all his glory with this tremendously refreshing comeback album. It's refreshing in every sense of the word. It's sound is refreshing and intimate. It's refreshing that a Soul album on a Soul artist, legendary or not, (But in particular a legendary one) is just that, soulful. Recorded live in the studio with a great cast of musicians, this album should bring deserved attention to the small Fat Possum record label in Oxford, MS. The songs on this album were all proudly contributed to Burke by some of the most respected people in the business. Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Brian Wilson are just the most famous of the lot. Morrison's songs are two of the better ones on the album, particularly "Fast Train". Both have Morrison written all over them, and in fact, he's using them on his upcoming outing. Like Morrison, Waits's, Wilson's, and Costello's songs are also instantly recognizable as theirs. Bob Dylan submits what is probably the most generic song on the album. Another highlight is the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil/Brenda Russell written "None Of Us Are Free". The two aforementioned titles, as well as the rest of the album, are graced by a superlative organ player in Rudy Copeland. Copeland, who is blind, is the organist at the church where Burke pastors. The title cut is written by songwriting cohorts Dan Penn and Carson Whitsett, along with Hoy Lindsey. Penn wanted to write an Otis Redding type ballad and had wanted to use the title "Don't Give Up On Me". Whitsett sat down and started laying down Otis like chord changes and the result, in my opinion, is a song that sounds like a classic '60s country Soul hit. In fact, I think it's the best true Southern Soul song written since the days of Al Geen's prime. Copeland's playful interplay with Burke is uniquely splendid. To say Burke sounds great would be an understatement. His voice is smooth and strong. The Joe Henry produced ensemble deliver a package that should be titled "Don't Give Up On Music."
on August 6, 2002
In his book "Sweet Soul Music", Peter Guralnik quotes Philadelphia DJ Jimmy Bishop answering the question "Who is the best soul singer of all time?" by saying "Solomon Burke. With a borrowed band.".This CD goes a long way to justifying that opinion. The band is sympathetic,empathetic, laid back, and for the most part borrowed.The organist from his Church, Rudy Copeland knows exactly what's going on and both leads and follows.The production is sparse, some background vocals and some sax, courtesy of Bennie Wallace.The tunes are an eclectic mix of the expected, the unexpected and the unknown, and for the most part work beautifully. However what this album is really about is the voice. Its timbre and pitch may be different to how it was way back then,but that's not the point about it.It still has that undefinable quality of greatness,and if it errs on the side of whispering rather than shouting that's the nature of the material he covers on this album. My own favourites will not be yours; they are the title track,"The other side of the coin" (a Nick lowe composition) and "Sit this one out" by Pick Purnell, but this is an album to play whole,rather than to pick tracks from.Repeated listening has brought out further subtle nuances in all the tracks, and will undoutedly continue to do so.If push came to shove this is probably my favourite album of 2002 in all genres,so far.Let's hope there's more to come soon.Highly recommended, and yes...an extraordinary CD!
on November 14, 2002
With Solomon Burke's consummate voice for soul music, and the songwriting mastery of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, how can you go wrong?
This album is SUCH a gem and should be considered among the best of 2002, but unfortunately, not many people will hear about it .. they're all busy listening to the garbage MTV is shoving down their throats.
This album rocks, plain and simple. The best songs on it are: Diamond in Your Mind, Stepchild, and The Judgment.
on July 1, 2005
Nicknamed "The Deacon" and "The King of Rock & Soul", ordained bishop Solomon Burke was one of the important early soul pioneers of the 60s before vanishing from the charts. He still played hundreds of concerts, though, his strengths largely intact, and in February 2002 he stepped into the studio to record this fascinating album.
"Don't Give Up On Me" features original songwriting contributions from several very well-known artists including Van Morrison (two songs), Bob Dylan, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, and producer Joe Henry himself. And it's not just soul, or R&B, rather it's a hybrid of sorts, blending soul, R&B, rock n' roll, blues, folk and a touch of gospel. 62 year old Burke delivers everything with panache and a voice full of soul, though, and every one of these performances are filled with power and intensity.
"Don't Give Up On Me" is remarkable for its sparse sound and low-key production, no big bands or string orchestras, just bass, percussion, a guitar, an organ and the occational piano. It is reminicent of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" in that respect, and there are some terrific songs here. The title track is the best, a gritty, dramatic deep soul tune with a huge hook and a lot of passion, but there are plenty of other highlights. It's actually a bit funny how much the slow swagger of Tom Waits' and Kathleen Brennan's "Diamond In Your Mind" sounds like a Tom Waits song, even though it's Burke singing it, and "Stepchild" sounds almost as much like the Bob Dylan song that it is.
Brian Wilson's "Soul Searchin'" is another highlight, as is Van Morrison's swampy "Fast Train", and Nick Lowe's slow "The Other Side Of The Coin", another genuine soul number.
If I am to complain a little bit I'll say that the relatively unvaried tempo and similar arrangements wear a little bit thin towards the end; a couple of up-tempo songs would have been nice. But there is an awful lot of amazing performances here, and "Don't Give Up On Me" is a worthy comeback for one of the greats of soul and R&B.
on December 21, 2006
In the last 15 years we have seen some comebacks of artists that were famous in the 50's and 60's but whose careers slowly went downhill in the 80's, mostly thanks to the invention of the soul-less synthesizer.
Johnny Cash was introduced to a new audience with his 'American Recordings' and subsequent released under the same title. He was no longer the guy in black singing 'Ring of Fire' but that old guy singing Palace Music and Danzig songs.
You could say the same thing about Bob Dylan with his last three CD's.
And then there is Reverend Burke. A great career in the 60's, some mediocre songs in the 80's but with "Don't Give Up On Me" he finally has what he always claimed to posess: the title of King of Soul.
No tracks he has written himself, but songs by Dan Penn (the brilliant and passionate title track), Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan.
The instrumentation is laid-back and how it is supposed to be, as if it could be played on the street without any electricity. Burke's voice, now even deeper than it used to be, soothes us and makes the tracks written by others his. We should not give up on him, we believe he has a diamond in his mind and that his life had been not so great.
This might be one of the best real old-fashioned soul albums of the last 20 years. The King is back.
on March 24, 2006
Fantastic and heartfelt production from a tremendous artist. Slower pace than some other Solomon Burke albums, but well worth the twice the price. Highly recommended for blues fans.
on April 7, 2003
This is the best album I've heard in a long time. It is one of those that transcends any specific genre. It's live studio sound is amazing, I love the production on this album. Solomon Burke has perhaps the greatest soul voice of all time. It is so powerfull and delicately restrained at the same time. The only reason a fan of Blues or Soul music would not like this album is because they would expect a much more oversampled and mixed album........but in my opinion the live bone cut recording of this album is one of its greatest assets. Wow. Thank you Solomon and Joe Henry and............