Monday, January 4, 2010


It's fine, go ahead and call it a comeback. Very few artists have had such a dramatic career revival after being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than Solomon Burke. Maybe Santana. But when Solomon was inducted, in 2001, he was pretty much on the oldies circuit. He was a seminal force in the early days of rock and roll, thanks go gems like "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" and "Cry To Me." He was around when artists like Ray Charles were seemlessly merging country and R&B, and Solomon was able to do that also. But in 2001, no one was really listening for his new music. And then singer/songwriter Joe Henry came into his life.

The album that the two men created, 2002's Don't Give Up On Me, may be the greatest "comeback" album ever. Mr. Henry put out the call that he was looking for material for Mr. Burke's record, and a few people responded: Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Elvis Costello to name a few. You gotta check this one out.

I wish Solomon stuck with Joe Henry for the next album, but instead he moved on and worked with Don Was. I am a fan of Don's production, but I think he made the album, 2005's Make Do With What You've Got, a bit too slick. Still, there were some great performances here, such as on Dylan's Oh Mercy-gem "What Good Am I?," The Band's "It Makes No Difference" and The Rolling Stones' "I Got The Blues."

The following year, he teamed up with Buddy Miller for Nashville. This one was more stripped down, and was really gorgeous. It may not be as good as Don't Give Up On Me, but it's almost there. It's not a duets album, but there are few: Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Gillian Welch are all on the album. All the duets are great, but the best performance on the album may be the opener, "That's How I Got To Memphis," on which Solomon is accompanied only by Buddy's guitar. This is another one of those records that you kind of have to have.

I wish he would have stuck with Buddy for another album (or reunited with Joe Henry), but he moved on again, this time working with Steve Jordan. The album, Like A Fire, was also a bit slick, but still had some great performances, including "A Minute To Rest And A Second To Pray" featuring Ben Harper.

In 2010, Solomon Burke will celebrate his 70th birthday. With over twenty children, over ninety grandchildren, and a couple of great-grandchildren, he could be excused if he decided to retire. But he reports on his website that he is going to be working with Al Green's producer, Willie Mitchell. While lots of people complain about how newer R&B artists don't have a vintage sound... well, stop worrying about it, and listen to a guy who is making some of the best music of his - or anyone else's -career. Thanks for still doing it, Mr. Solomon Burke. Consider your next album pre-ordered.

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