“Songs take a message directly to your heart,” says SOLOMON BURKE. “When you can’t speak for yourself, sometimes a song can say something in three minutes that you’ve been trying to say all your life.”
Certainly, when a song receives the honor of being performed by Burke, the King of Rock and Soul, it is bestowed a rare and beautiful power. On his latest album, Like A Fire, Burke gives his unparalleled treatment to a new batch of songs that cover a wide range of emotions.
Solomon Burke is truly one of popular music’s larger-than-life figures. His records helped create the exhilarating celebration of pure feeling and African-American vocal expression that came to be known as soul. His songs, including such classics as “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and “Cry to Me,” have been covered by artists from the Rolling Stones to Tom Petty, from the Blues Brothers to Bruce Springsteen. “He is Solomon the resonator,” Tom Waits has said. “The golden voice of heart, wisdom, soul, and experience. He’s one of the architects of American music.”
Since his 2001 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Burke has enjoyed something of a renaissance as a performer (while also maintaining his parallel lives as an entrepreneur with a chain of mortuaries, a bishop in the House of God for All People, and a father of 21). His glorious 2002 album Don’t Give Up On Me, which was dedicated to new songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, and Van Morrison, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. That album’s follow-up, Make Do With What You Got (produced by Don Was), and Burke’s 2006 release, Nashville, both received Grammy nominations as well.
Nashville – which featured duets with such legends as Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris – returned Burke to his longtime love of country music. But the theme on Like A Fire isn’t any single musical style; instead, it focuses on Burke’s brilliant interpretation of compositions by a new generation of songwriters, including Ben Harper (“A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray”), Keb’ Mo (“We Don’t Need It”), and Jesse Harris (“What Makes Me Think I Was Right” and “You and Me”).
Another superstar songwriter shows his respect for Solomon Burke by contributing not just one, but two songs to Like A Fire. Eric Clapton penned the album’s title track, and shares writing credit with Burke on the heartfelt, countrified “Thank You,” which comes complete with an old-school recited breakdown.
The album closes with the only song not written specifically for this project. “If I Give My Heart to You” was written in 1954, and best known in that year’s hit version by Doris Day. Burke gives the song an intimate, extremely personal reading, unique in his recent body of work. “I told the band to leave, I just wanted piano and drums on that one,” he recalls. “I was really tired, but I didn’t want to dress it up. I was talking to my children, to the ones I love – and I have 21 kids and 88 grandchildren, so that song has a lot of meaning to me!”
Like A Fire serves as proof that one of American music’s towering icons remains a vital, inimitable force. “I’m on a journey, and that journey is music,” says Solomon Burke. “I want to give all I can to as many people as I can for as long as I can.”
— Alan Light