The once and future king


Solomon Burke — “the King of rock ‘n soul” — remains one of the last great exponents of the pinnacle of Western civilization known as soul music. Solomon is the surprise hero of Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music and the subject of a brilliant chapter of that magnificent book. Yesterday was Solomon’s birthday.
I dragged John to see Burke perform at a private fundraising concert at the Fine Line club one evening in Minneapolis in 1990 or so. Guralnick quotes the judgment of Atlantic Records principal Jerry Wexler to the effect that Burke is the best soul singer ever when singing with a borrowed band, which is what he had that night. It was an unforgettable show.
Solomon’s aptly named “Soul Alive!” recording of 1984 (remastered and reissued in expanded form in 2002) shows him in his element. In his most recent recording — “Nashville,” produced by instrumental virtuoso Buddy Miller — Burke recalls the beginning of his career with a return to the country music scene. He is joined by such appreciative stars as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Griffin in a memorable outing. (He discusses the recording in an interview here.)
In the video above, Solomon performs “Fast Train” with Van Morrison. It’s the song that Van contributed to Solomon’s 2002 outing “Don’t Give Up On Me.” Early in his career, in “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” Solomon preaches: “There’s a song that I sing, and I believe that if everybody was to sing this song, it would save the whole world.” It’s a sentiment that much of Solomon’s work brings to mind (my mind, anyway), “Fast Train” emphatically included.

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