CD Review of Nashville by Solomon Burke

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starstarstarstarno star Label: Shout! Factory
Released: 2006
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Sometimes, when I listen to the sweet soul music produced in Memphis, Motown and of course Muscle Shoals in the 1960s, I cry. Not because Otis is reminding me of an old love lost, or because Aretha's reminding me of obligations I've left behind back at home, or because Marvin Gaye's reminding me about how totally fucked up this supposedly free country is. No, I cry because I was born in a time where New Jack Swing, Diddy, Mariah Carey and Beyonce are what passes for soul. I can't imagine what the living legends like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and this man, Solomon Burke, think when they hear such contemporary overproduced garbage on the radio. Raised on gospel in rock-solid churches, some of these singers must cover their ears in shame to hear the musical genre they built reduced to Fergie prattling on about her lovely lady lumps or when they stop to think that their legacy is Nelly Furtado proclaiming her promiscuity all the way to the top of the charts.

This record – countrified rock with a Memphis twist – finds the old king of soul in fine form, like a vintage port at his 66-year-old prime, completing a three-album cycle, the first two covering down-home soul and singer-songwriter material. Certainly, pairing him with the likes of Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris will extend Burke's reach well beyond the soul fans who've appreciated for decades the golden voice that brought us such early-'60s classics as "Cry to Me" and "If You Need Me." Country fans – who can appreciate a singer with a dynamic range covering the whisper to carrying a four-part gospel chorus – no doubt will appreciate Burke's talent, but it does kind of sound strange hearing him in these duets. Strange in the same way the album credits the Jimmy Reed blues classic "I Ain't Got You" to Bruce Springsteen, who covered it himself about 30 years after it first peaked in the juke joints.

No worries, though, the high points of the record are like the high points of all his others: where he's singing the slow soul ballads. The album leads off with one such tune, "That's How I Got to Memphis." It violates the cardinal rule of album sequencing, which mandates that you start off with something a little uptempo, but you don't do that with the King of Soul. Instead, this record's leadoff track showcases the beautiful depths of his singing in a quiet, take-your-time ballad that shows how Burke can pack a sledgehammer of emotion into a single note, without the clutter of ten musicians in the background layered upon one another in a sonic pudding a la Beyonce.

And that's the deal: whether he's singing country, folk, blues, or his old time soul, Solomon Burke's voice is like spun gold. Pair him with Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra, Gene Simmons, or those nutballs from the Flaming Lips, who cares. You can't make a bad record if it has this guy on it, even if he's pushing 70 years old and singing cheesy country junk like "Millionaire" and the cover of Don Williams' "Atta Way to Go" on this CD, sandwiched between gems like "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" and the instant Burke classic "Til I Get It Right." He still sounds great, making Nashville perhaps the only gotta-have soul album of 2006.

~Mojo Flucke, PhD