C8S2CD11 Solomon Burke was a larger than life character and I don’t just mean in the physical sense. Although the size of Burke towards the end of his career meant that he would sit on stage in a huge purpose built throne with an ermine cloak drapped round him and crown perched on his head, he was married 4 times, had 21 children and at the last count around 90 grandchildren and was an ordained minister so you can see what I mean when I say larger than life.
This album was released in 2002 and was the start of a rebirth for Solomon Burke. Just like Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, Joe Henry re-ignited Burke’s career by doing a bit of a makeover on him. Burke was a 60’s soul artist most famous I guess for the song Everybody Needs Somebody To Love which featured in the original Blues Brothers film. This album would catapult Burke into the world of Grammy nominations and awards and accolades,(Mojo's Album of the year) appearances on Later, and this would lead to a host of artists knocking on his door wanting to work with him. The weirdness of which for me was a tour with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as a backing band!
This album was made in 4 days recorded in the studio, live. I watched a documentary on the making once and you could see that Burke wasn’t really sure what Joe Henry was up to as he says as much worried about the recording techniques which were very different that he was used to. Ironically at the end of the documentary after the Grammy nomination, Burke is quoted say ‘I knew we had something special’ which made me laugh but hey wether he was sure or not he let Joe Henry do what he needed to do. In the liner notes Henry talks about how they recorded the songs. He talks about picking a tight but understated band, and waited for Solomon to sing the songs and woked the arrangements around how Solomon phrased the lyrics rather than writing an arrangement and getting Solomon to sing round that.this works beautifully as the sound is so natural and showcases Solomons voice. The 11 songs were all donated for the project from various songwriters, and if I said Dan Penn, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello you are starting to get the picture as to the quality of the songs. Add in guest appearances from Daniel Lanois and The Blind Boys Of Alabama and you star get the feel for an album oozing in talent.
The album starts with Don’t Give Up On Me a heartfelt plea which could be interrupted as Burke’s view of his career at that point in time.The Waits penned Diamond In Your Mind always reminds me of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life from Monty Pythons Life Of Brian for some reason but is still a great track but if hard to pick out tracks on an album of this standard. The band do what they need to do quietly filling out the songs with quality playing that never overpowers Burke as this album is all about quality not quanity. The Blind Boys Of Alabama guest on None Of Us Are Free, and add that gospel sound like only they can. Henry mentions that the Blind Boys turned up sat down sang then chatted to everybody and then left, no mention of whether the take was good enough, they just knew it was! I have been lucky enough to see both artists perform live but unfortunately never at the same time which would have been something special.
Burke released another 4 albums after this between 2002 and 2010 when he sadly died. All of them I have a couple more Nashville and Make Do With what You Got which are both exceptional releases. Although it is always sad when someone dies Solomon Burke’s musical legacy is there for all to admire. Enjoy.