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Elvis works with Solomon Burke on his album Don't Give Up On Me
Fat Possum Records, 2002-04-15




Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member SOLOMON BURKE--the man Jerry Wexler calls "the world's greatest soul singer"--has recorded a brand new album for Fat Possum Records.

Recorded live in the studio in a raw, organic style by Joe Henry, Don't Give Up On Me features new compositions by writers and artists including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello (pictured above with Solomon at work in the studio), Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Nick Lowe, Joe Henry and Dan Penn, all of whom credit Solomon with deeply influencing their work.

None of these songs have ever been released commercially before now, and Solomon makes each of them his own with his dynamic delivery.

Album highlights include Mann & Weil's rousing "None Of Us Are Free," which features a guest appearance by the Grammy-winning Blind Boys Of Alabama, and the beautiful title track, written by Dan Penn, one of the greatest Soul writers of all time and a frequent collaborator of Solomon's in the '60s. Penn, whose songs includes such staples as "Dark End of the Street" and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" has penned another classic with "Don't Give Up On Me." The song shows two masters at the peak of their powers proving that the magic between them is stronger than ever.


What's become of soul music? It didn't die with Otis Redding; it didn't stop when Al Green quit; it didn't fade with James Brown’s voice--it's been in Los Angeles the entire time, under the astute and faithful stewardship of Solomon Burke. Burke, the King of Rock & Soul, the Bishop, is a big man with an even bigger talent, a revered vocalist whose mastery is unmatched by any other proponent of the style he largely originated. Burke embodies deep soul, with a forty plus year career that's produced a series of records consistently profound in emotional, artistic and spiritual gravity.

Early hits like "Cry To Me" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" (both covered by the Rolling Stones) are blueprints, soul music essentials, and Otis Redding's choice to re-make Burke's "Down In The Valley" points to the man as a powerful influence. As Peter Guralnick noted, Burke has served far too long as "The King In Exile"; despite a towering reputation among peers and fans alike, and his 2001 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the singer remains somewhat of a mystifyingly under-appreciated figure. With the release of Don't Give Up On Me, his Fat Possum debut, the widely acknowledged King of Rock & Soul is liable to ascend to a height equal to his glorious 1960s reign at Atlantic Records.

While any exposure to the Burke style guarantees instant and enduring appreciation, the roster of song contributors on this disc are, in and of themselves, a strong testimonial to Burke's implacable spell: Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Tom Waits, Joe Henry, with key contributions from legendary veteran writers Dan Penn, Mann & Weil, all contributed commercially unreleased original compositions, either specifically custom tailored to, or innately suited for the interpretive genius of this unrivaled singer. (In Morrison’s case, both songs wound up on his own latest album). Never before has such a cross-section of revered pop talent enthusiastically converged on one album, but there are precious few vocalists on the aerie artistic level of Solomon Burke.

Always put across in an utterly relaxed manner, an ease that veils smoldering intensity, Burke is peerless. Born of secular passion yet informed by his gospel background, just listening to Burke deliver a lyric is mesmerizing. It prompts an almost trancelike state of mind, as if the very tone of voice imparts an electrochemical reaction a psychological transition that once made allows Burke's phrasing and mastery of nuance to envelop and sway you off into a place no other singer can. This transportive quality is born of a rare mix; Burke has led an extraordinary life: born March 21, 1940 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by age 7 dubbed ‘The Boy Wonder Preacher’, he was a crown and regal robe clad youth sermonizing not just to the congregation attending his family's church, but also to those who tuned in regular broadcasts on WDAS. While still in his teens, he made his first gospel records for East Coast indie Apollo, scoring a million seller with 1954's "Christmas Presents from Heaven." In 1960, age 24, he signed with R&B powerhouse Atlantic Records, concurrent to the label's acquisition of another gospel-trained talent, Aretha Franklin. With fabled record man Jerry Wexler, Burke began crafting a stunning series of classic records. Having raised a flock of 21 children, still active leading his own ministry, he's been summoned by Presidents and Popes, sold over 17 million records, and exhibits no signs whatsoever of slowing. As Wexler has said, "Burke is the greatest soul singer of them all," whose voice is "an instrument of exquisite sensitivity."

Don't Give Up On Me was recorded live in the studio over a four day period, with an ensemble anchored by Burke's church organist Brother Rudy Copeland and producer Joe Henry, and features contributions from guests Daniel Lanois and revered gospel outfit The Blind Boys of Alabama. From the opening title track, crafted with the typical genius of Dan Penn (the man responsible for "Do Right Woman" and "Dark End of the Street"), and sung with passionate restraint by Burke, the soul ethic is in full, rich bloom. "We just went in and did it." Burke said. "It was an amazing experience, and one of the first that I've done naturally live since the fifties. With the new technology it's amazing what can be done, but it's also amazing what can't be done, we're goin' back to the roots. It was a pleasure." On Van Morrison's "Fast Train" all Burke's resolute sanctified power is at work, and Tom Waits’ "Diamond In Your Mind" provides a fine, if unlikely, launching point for Burke's interpretive prowess. Joe Henry's "Flesh & Blood" is, as Burke said, "A great song. He's an exciting young man, a talented gentleman, he has a lot of thought, a lot of vision, and it’s very different, very inspirational--he knows exactly what he wants." The next track, Brian Wilson's "Soul Searching" is classic, with a brokenhearted, prowling-the-streets Solomon, working at very the top of his always prodigious form.

Burke's vocals, power undiminished, tempered by decades of performing and recording experience, is nothing less than a force of nature. With a healthy dose of honky-tonk weeper psychology and the clinical reality of his training as a mortician (a business he's still active in), Burke has unique philosophical and physiological insights into the human condition, that infuse the delivery of his songs. This extraordinary mix perfectly suits the nocturnal melancholy of Morrison's "Only A Dream" and the agonized finality of Elvis Costello's "The Judgment," (of which Burke said, "It's like an opera. It takes you back to that time, it takes you back to Europe"). On Bob Dylan's "Stepchild" Burke's warm shout and Daniel Lanois’ swamp-toned guitar converge for a magnificent case of blues funk atmosphere. The gospel mood of Nick Lowe's reflective lament "The Other Side of the Coin," written specifically for Burke, is a definite highlight. Lowe captures the conflict that a man of God who also happens to be a soul music legend invariably faces, and it's a perfect setup for the near apocalyptic declaration of Mann & Weil's "None of Us Are Free." With the Blind Boys of Alabama behind him, this is a heavy duty example of soul music as social conscience, a potent type of message song, equal parts harsh indictment and almost beatific resignation, that's been far too long lacking in pop music ("Ain't that heavy?" Burke enthused. "Oh man, that was one I could've done all night, with the Blind Boys on there, just keep on goin' . . .").

The wistful "Sit This One Out" winds down the set with a fine dose of Burke's characteristically dynamic style. From foreboding gloom to jubilant celebration, his phrasing, with the gracefully sculpted melisma of genuine gospel, the gut level impact of raw pain and yearning, his fluid use of intonation, shaping new contours within a single vowel, are so immediately affecting and shot full of artful reality, that it can only be described as a shrewdly crafted mix of day to day experience informed by a wholly metaphysical realm unique to Burke. "That is really what soul is about: what you put on it, what you make of it, how you spice it up, all the little extras you add to make it work. " Burke said. "The entire album was very exciting and it was heartrending to think all these writers, the Bob Dylans, Elvis Costellos, would even think of me. I would characterize these as art, pieces of art, songs that were designed in some way with me in mind, in each one of these writers’ minds--all of them are beautiful. I wanted each piece of that art to hang in my own palace. To me, they all belong in a special place. It was remarkable."


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