CD Review of Like a Fire by Solomon Burke
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Label
Shout! Factory
Solomon Burke:
Like a Fire

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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F
ew artists have enjoyed late-period career resurgences as deserved (or as long overdue) as Solomon Burke’s; when the country-soul pioneer returned to action with the stellar, Joe Henry-produced Don’t Give Up on Me in 2002, the resultant accolades sparked a creative tear for Burke, who followed it up with Make Do With What You Got in 2005, Nashville a year after that, and now Like a Fire. Not too shabby for a guy who, depending which version of events you believe, is either 68 or 72.

“Not too shabby,” coincidentally, provides as apt a summation as any for Like a Fire. Since hiring Henry for Don’t Give Up on Me, Burke has shown a knack for aligning himself with the right producer – he went on to work with Don Was and Buddy Miller for the follow-ups – and in Steve Jordan, you’d think Burke would have found another winning combination. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Jordan, for whatever reason, has polished Like a Fire to a dull autumnal glow; the album has a lot of guest stars, including Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’, and (in the songwriting credits, anyway) Eric Clapton – and it boasts a crackerjack band that includes Jordan, Danny Kortchmar, and Larry Taylor, with cameos from ringers like Dean Parks, David Paich, and Larry Goldings – but what it doesn’t have is the material to match the personnel.

The album’s adult contemporary vibe is perplexing, considering that Burke built his career on his thunderous, impassioned vocals – and Jordan should know that better than most. By sanding all the grit out of the performances – which are all relaxed mid-tempo songs anyway – he makes an unintentional joke out of the album’s title. It would have been more accurate to call the record Like a Warm Breeze, or perhaps Like a Thermostat Set to 65 Degrees. You know you’re in trouble when an album’s gutsiest performance comes on a track written by Ben Harper.

Still, even lukewarm Solomon Burke is preferable to no Solomon Burke at all – something this album proves irrefutably. If Like a Fire didn’t so resolutely refuse to play to Burke’s strengths, it would be a lot more entertaining. As it is, the songs still have their moments – the Clapton-penned title track is a nifty slice of senior-citizen soul, and Keb’ Mo’s cameo on his own “We Don’t Need It” is predictably solid – but they’re moments that any one of a hundred singers could have brought you. Aside from the closing track, a piss-taking cover of “If I Give My Heart to You,” it’s rarely clear why it had to be Burke. His improbable run couldn’t have lasted forever – and three out of four albums certainly ain’t bad – but it’s hard not to dwell on all the lost potential.

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