Solomon Burke, Like A Fire

James McNair

By James McNair

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

His slew of classic sides for Atlantic Records, his fathering of 21 children and his Vatican performances for two different Popes — all of the above evidence Solomon Burke's life less ordinary. By rights he should be resting up by now, but Like a Fire sees the 72-year-old soul/country legend busying himself with what he does best.

A legend returns — and brings along a few friends.

The album's approach (which sees Burke cover newies by the likes of Eric Clapton, Keb'Mo', Ben Harper and sometime Norah Jones song writer Jesse Harris) is reminiscent of 2002's Don't Give Up on Me, wherein Burke tackled songs penned for him by a more uniformly stellar crew including Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. There's a similar economy to the arrangements here too, Burke's authoritative, treacle-thick baritone easily commanding center stage.

As Burke steps out with a core trio comprised of guitarist Danny Kortchmar (Carole King), bassist Larry Taylor (Canned Heat) and producer/drummer Steve Jordan (Keith Richards), Keb'Mo's country blues / gospel nugget “We Don't Need It” is an early highlight. Ostensibly about a man who is scared to tell his family that he's lost his job, the narrative soon takes on a stoic, triumphant quality that Burke's preacher-man background enables him to make the most of. Better yet, though, is “The Fall,” which Steve Jordan penned with lyricist Meegan Voss. Gently measured and ornamented with graceful curlicues of pedal steel, it's another portrait of a ruined man that Burke presents as a cautionary tale.

It's on the album's closing track, though, that the great man sounds as though he's enjoying himself most. Burke's grandma used to play him Doris Day's 1954 hit “If I Give My Heart to You” when he was a kid, and his own reading of it strikes just the right note of happy/sad nostalgia.