Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Solomon Burke

  • Proud Mary [Bell, 1969] B
  • We're Almost Home [MGM, 1972] C-
  • Soul Alive! [Rounder, 1984] B+
  • A Change Is Gonna Come [Rounder, 1986] B+
  • The Definition of Soul [Pointblank, 1997] Dud
  • The Very Best of Solomon Burke [Rhino, 1998] A-
  • Don't Give Up on Me [Fat Possum/Anti-, 2002] B-
  • Make Do With What You Got [Shout! Factory, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Nashville [Shout! Factory, 2006] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Proud Mary [Bell, 1969]
Solid and soulful as always. Self-produced in Muscle Shoals, it's not quite up to his Atlantic stuff, but close enough. Includes a strong rendition of "That Lucky Old Sun," usually a death-trap (especially for black singers) because it's been done so often. That took balls, so I won't charge him for being slightly under time: 29:25. B

We're Almost Home [MGM, 1972]
It's the custom to blame abortive rhythm-and-blues comebacks on producers, but Burke takes one-third credit for this aimless clutter himself. The title song is acceptable, but too often the man who was once the most churchified of the Atlantic greats equates contemporaneity with a twisted shout. C-

Soul Alive! [Rounder, 1984]
With the "Bishop of Soul" backed by Brenda Bergman's Realtones, this live double from America's premier folkie label looks like an irrelevance, but the D.C. audience signifies otherwise. Burke's singing has lost subtlety rather than power, and since all but two of the twenty-four songs he sets his voice to are relegated to medleys, his reading of specific lyrics aren't the issue so much as the preacherly context he creates for them--the way his monologues connect musically acute texts like "If You Need Me" and "Hold What You've Got" and "Down in the Valley" and "Gotta Get You Off of My Mind" to the facts of love in a world where women sign their own welfare checks. B+

A Change Is Gonna Come [Rounder, 1986]
With his fondness for the grand gesture, I just knew Burke was going to build the hushed title cut to a crescendo, but instead of trivializing the song with a false resolution he maintains its tension for seven minutes. That's the triumph, but the same level of taste prevails--this is a modern soul album that engages the material at hand instead of pimping for reactionaries. And with contributions from the likes of Paul Kelly and Jimmy Lewis, the material is worth engaging. B+

The Definition of Soul [Pointblank, 1997] Dud

The Very Best of Solomon Burke [Rhino, 1998]
From Jerry Wexler to Peter Guralnick and beyond, the authorities who consider this minor hitmaker (five top 40s, none after 1965) the greatest soul singer or something like it delight in his eye for the main chance. Hawking food on tour buses, skipping the playback of his label debut so he can get back to his snow-shoveling concession, he proves soul is as much show business as sincerity or gospel truth. But maybe it's not so great that he can turn his talent "on and off so easily, seemingly at will." Maybe the readiness with which the man would sing country or preach pop bespeaks a detachment from music as a calling. These mostly New York-recorded songs, all crafted with Atlantic's staunch commitment to bottom and hook, rarely create the illusion of necessity. Smooth and commanding, hustling his blarney with humor and grit, he risks remaining just out of reach of your two willing ears. A-

Don't Give Up on Me [Fat Possum/Anti-, 2002]
The latest Old Person to forge Honest Music in the teeth of a Youth-Orientated Marketplace has lost his legendary voice, so what's the attraction? An egomaniac's deep insight into the human heart? A fat man's heartwarming ability to ambulate to his throne? Or just New Songs by such Respected Veterans as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson, Dan Penn, and Bob Dylan--whose praise of himself as a dance musician I'd love to hear him do himself, proving that Burke would have butchered the thing even if he could still sing? B-

Make Do With What You Got [Shout! Factory, 2005]
"I Need Your Love in My Life" Choice Cuts

Nashville [Shout! Factory, 2006] Dud

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]