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Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2002



Solomon Burke: "Don't Give Up On Me"

Solomon Burke's new album, "Don't Give Up On Me," is being touted as not only the return of one of soul music's pioneers, but the return of soul singing itself. And while the sixtysomething Burke is in great voice, the record is somewhat frustrating. Producer Joe Henry hired a dozen big-name artists to write material for it, including Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. They contributed great songs, but everyone wrote a soul ballad. There's not one shouter.

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So if the purpose of the record is to introduce one of the great singers of all time to a new generation, it doesn't succeed completely. Perhaps that's why Rounder Records just re-released "Soul Alive," a two-disc live album originally released on vinyl in 1985. Documenting two complete sets from 1983, the album was an earlier attempt to rekindle interest in the "King of Rock 'n' Soul." Though his career never reached the heights of his contemporaries James Brown and Ray Charles, Burke was, among his peers, considered superior for his range and versatility.

Those two traits are in abundant evidence on "Soul Alive," which contains Burke's '60s hits ("If You Need Me," "You're Good for Me") and a full complement of pop standards done in his signature sweaty style. But the heart of the album is in the long gospel-like monologues between numbers, where Burke preaches extemporaneously about everything from women's liberation to the real cost of infidelity. Unlike most singers nowadays, he doesn't have to beg the audience to clap or sing along. "We can save the whole wide world," he shouts to an extremely boisterous crowd in Washington, and at that moment you truly believe they will. He then lets them take over the chorus of "I Almost Lost My Mind," and says suggestively, "All we need now is a water bed." It's not difficult to imagine Solomon Burke making love to a whole club full of people. As this incredible record proves, he is simply too much of a good thing.

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