The King of Rock and Soul, the Philly-born Solomon Burke calls himself, and it's what he's gone by ever since he began his career as a secular soul singer in the early '60s. The epithet is confusing, and it never really caught on; perhaps not coincidentally, neither did Burke, at least in terms of wider recognition. The preacher-turned-soulman followed in the career footsteps of contemporaries like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but he has remained a collector's favorite, the soul connoisseurs' soul singer: it can't be an accident that when Nick Hornby was crafting his record-geek opus High Fidelity, he decided that Solomon Burke's "Got To Get You Off Of My Mind" would soundtrack a pivotal plot point. Since the turn of the last decade, however, Burke has experienced a welcome, if minor, late-career renaissance; on 2002's Grammy-winning, aptly titled Don't Give Up On Me, producer Joe Henry gave Burke a variation on the Johnny Cash treatment, handing the assured veteran a selection of left-field songs to lavish with his burnished warmth, from Brian Wilson to Tom Waits. Since then, he has been working, and touring, steadily.
Nothing's Impossible is his latest full-length, and from the first note, it sounds positively rapturous. That's no accident: the record was the final project of the late, legendary Willie Mitchell, the man whose Hi Records releases with Al Green, Ann Peebles, and others define Memphis soul and can surely claim direct responsibility for a substantial portion of the current under-40 population. Mitchell's sound is as unmistakable as it is timeless; "What A Feeling," the opener, creeps by on the exquisite, molasses-slow tempo that Mitchell figured out a long time ago is pretty much the precise sonic equivalent to slow undressing. The songs on Nothing's Impossible are so simple and timeless as to be practically gestural, mere sturdy frameworks for Burke to kick up churchy grit and raise the temperature of the room. At this, he succeeds spectacularly. "Everything About You" mostly consists of the first verse to "Suzie Q," punched up with sashaying horns, buttery organs, and a braying, wooly sax solo. "Dreams" directly recalls Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams To Remember," except that Burke's dream was a little more ribald, and he seems to get a little lost in the moment recounting its details. It doesn't even matter: the song, with its swollen downbeat snare hitting like faucet drops and its taffy-pulled strings, could go on forever and it would be hard to complain.
Burke's voice, meanwhile, has only gained new crags and facets; when your voice is grainy and weathered from the outset, you can look forward to a career of only sounding better as you age. Indeed, Burke may be 70, but the man who recently claimed he would soon have 90 grandchildren (four more Burkes were born during the writing of this review) is looking to take on the second decade of the millenium with even more vigorousness than he did the first. Give him another twenty years; he might make that unlikely nickname stick yet.