Album: Solomon Burke
Soul Alive! Rounder
Friday 13 December 2002
This year's splendid Don't Give Up On Me album may have hoisted Solomon Burke's massive talent back into the spotlight, but as this 1981 concert recording demonstrates, his flame burned just as brightly even during soul's fallow period. A man of many parts – he preached his first sermon aged seven, and later studied to become a mortician – Burke was the consummate secular preacher of his era, even headlining over Otis Redding. Here, he moves smoothly through a series of medleys, their slow-burning progress accentuated by the whoops of his congregation, carefully building each set up to a more animated conclusion with a few party tunes such as "Proud Mary" and "Amen". Throughout, he demonstrates expressive command across his entire vocal range, and at all volumes, from a whisper to a roar; occasionally, a murmured "easy, easy" quietens his band (which includes the elegant Cropper-esque guitar stylings of Marc Ribot) for an emotional passage. The medleys are further elongated by monologues on matters such as morality and mortality. In the most impressive case, a medley of "Take Me (Just As I Am)" and "I Can't Stop Loving You" is stretched by two sermons testifying to the "something special happening here", and asking us to meditate on the healing powers of Solomon's show. Even on disc, that power burns through, undiminished, two decades on.
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