So good at mixing contradictions, Burke was once described as being able to "hold a baby in one hand and pinch somebody's ass with the other." His ability to blend R&B, gospel, country and rock into a seamless style recalls an entire era that may never return, as there is more division in pop music than ever these days. I miss that whole time period greatly--when white rock bands wanted to sound like the black & white musicians in Memphis or Muscle Shoals, and black artists put their soulful stamp on...hell, even material written by David Gates.
It's ridiculous how many terrific records Solomon Burke made, and I'll bet there are many more I'm unaware of, as I have nothing in my collection from his stay at Apollo Records in the 1950s. But I've got so many favorites from the Atlantic years of the '60s
--Saturday night swagger meets Sunday morning calm--and from other eras, too. The continued quality of Burke's output has made my upcoming radio tribute to him this Saturday on KAOS radio a difficult thing to put together. Because of the DMCA (Digital Music Copyright Act) for stations that stream on the net as we do, I won't be able to air more than three King Solomon tracks.
The Atlantic anthology, Home In Your Heart, is a good place to start if you don't have any Solomon Burke in your collection. Fast forward to 1981, when his extraordinary live set, Soul Alive! was cut (it was released by Rounder in 1984). Here, you get punchy songs and medleys of his best known work and beyond, such as sermon-styled raps, where Burke illuminates the emotions of the songs he's chosen. More than anything, you get an performer and audience connecting, and Soul Alive! captures that bond. It's the way the recorded medium is supposed to work, but often does not.
Joe Henry's spare production, a nice variety of material, and of the course, King Solomon's singular voice, makes 2002's Don't Give Up On Me (Shout! Factory) another fave, and I really love 2006's Nashville, where Burke and producer Buddy Miller turn the label "Americana" into the sham I think it is. What's the difference between Alt Country and Americana? I'm still waiting for an explanation. How can a term that's supposed to characterize American roots music encompass only the Country side? Burke and Miller's work attests that Blues and R&B shouldn't be left out of that "Americana" description, and Burke comes up with yet another muscular amalgamation worth hearing, one that obliterates those barriers.
Nashville includes Tom T. Hall's "That's How I Got to Memphis," Miller's brooding "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" and Bruce Springsteen's "Ain't Got You." On the latter, Burke invents his own ending to the song, and the musicians play so passionately that the whole thing ends with laughter and Burke's joyous comments: "Ya'll done went hog crazy there! What the heck was goin' on in this place here? Have ya'll got religion?"
More than ten years back, my friend Shannon Wiberg of KAOS interviewed Burke and got him to do a KAOS ID over the strains of his classic, "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." "You are the man," she tells him, and he answers, "No, you're the queen," so pleased to be acknowledged as the first-rate artist that he was and is.
It's sure gonna be hard to figure out which Solomon Burke tracks to put on the air this Saturday, because I have an absolute bumper crop of choices.