Album: Solomon Burke

Don't Give up on Me, Fat Possum
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The Independent Culture

To be able to draw on unrecorded material from songwriters such as Dylan, Costello, Tom Waits, Mann & Weill, Van Morrison and Brian Wilson, you have to have either a great manager or a great reputation. I don't know about his manager, but Solomon Burke's reputation is peerless: this, after all, is the man regarded as "the greatest soul singer of them all" by Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, who should know about such matters. Fortunately, Burke has found a new home with Mississippi blues specialists Fat Possum, and, in Joe Henry, a producer whose skill and ambition matches his own. Besides devising the perfect settings for numbers like Dan Penn's classic soul pleader "Don't Give Up on Me" and Waits's gospelly "Diamond in Your Mind", Henry also manages to contribute the album's standout song, a spooked soul blues called "Flesh and Blood", with Burke's mighty baritone bringing a desperate resignation to lines like "The fever in my brain is leaving smoke behind my eyes/ When the part of me that wants to change fights the part of me that tries". Nick Lowe's "The Other Side of the Coin", a bravura balancing-act of regret and pride, is likewise nicely measured for Burke, but Elvis Costello & Cait O'Riordan's "The Judgement" is a trifle mannered, throttled by a welter of clumsy legal metaphors. Elsewhere, Wilson's "Soul Searchin'" is a simple song tweaked into something special, while Dylan's "Stepchild" is given a Rosco Gordon-style R&B slouch similar to his own current work. The album's other great track, though, is Mann & Weill's "None of Us are Free" ("If one of us is chained, none of us are free"), to which the Five Blind Boys of Alabama bring a massive dignity. A marvellous, long overdue return.