Solomon Burke – The Very Best of

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I got into soul later – not that I’m aware of a typical timeline for this sort of thing – but I am a big fan. I am pretty sure it was Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity that introduced me to Solomon Burke, actually. He is inexplicably sort of a lesser-known soul singer. It’s not his voice – which is marvelous. It’s not his material, which includes at least one bona fide soul standard. And it’s not his story – a child preacher (a calling he pursued until his passing); a mortician; a showman who took the stage in a cape and crown; the owner of funeral parlors, a popcorn business, drugstores, a limo service, and the first Mountain Dew franchise in Philadelphia; and the father of many children, the first when he was 14. He died in 2010.

What I Think of This Album

I honestly have no way of knowing, but I have proceeded under the belief that this is a solid and sufficient – perhaps ideal – compilation of Burke’s essential material; I trust Rhino to do a good job with these sorts of things. I do find it to be extremely enjoyable, so there’s that.

You can definitely tell that Burke had a background in gospel. He croons gently – with angelic harmonies – on “Just Out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms),” which owes more to ‘50s country balladry than ‘60s soul (and in fact was recorded by Patsy Cline). Things get grittier on “Cry to Me,” with some great repetition of the “cry.” The horns on 19th century folk song “Down In the Valley” are a nice counter to Burke’s emotional vocal. He pledges his devotion and promises changed behavior on the sweet “I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You,” with a subtle horn and wonderful piano accompaniment. Burke absolutely owns the Otis Redding written (in part) “If You Need Me” (on which Cissy Houston sings backup).

“Can’t Nobody Love You” is romantic and seductive, starting low and slow and then Burke builds up to some gravelly shouting. Try not to sway to “You’re Good for Me,” and smile as you fail. I assume a fair number of people recognize “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” from the Blues Brothers, and beyond that, Otis Redding had a hit with it, but Burke’s original version is excellent (he also co-wrote it). The intro sermon is priceless. “The Price” is a drama-filled song of a man done wrong, with some cool drumming. Things get more upbeat on the bright-but-sad “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” which he wrote with his mother and his wife (background vocals again included Cissy Houston and DeeDee Warwick).

The rest of the album works its way towards the end of Burke’s seven year run at Atlantic, culminating with the rare “Soul Meeting,” a collaboration between Burke, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, Arthur Conley, and Don Covay, that was intended to be part of a larger social justice project intended to benefit African-American communities in the South.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Got to Get You Off My Mind”

Release Date

February, 1998

The Cover Art

Standard, but good. The color palette is great, the wave format for Burke’s name is fantastic and the different fonts are well-chosen.

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