First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2006, Volume 13, #10
Written by John Metzger
After storming back into the spotlight with the Grammy-winning Don’t Give Up on Me, Solomon Burke steadfastly has determined not to allow his second shot at fame to dissipate. Instead of merely recreating the album’s sparse, open, atmospheric textures — a safe route that many others would have taken — he turned the subsequently issued Make Do with What You Got into a riveting rock ’n‘ soul gem that highlighted his influence upon the British music scene of the early ’60s. On his latest endeavor Nashville, Burke offers yet another twist upon his legacy by further exploring the country–influenced aspects of his work. Taken together, the three outings provide an insightful glimpse at the complete range of his abilities.
Produced by Buddy Miller, Nashville is Burke’s first, full-fledged country outing, and not surprisingly, it delves much deeper into the genre than he has ever dared to go. Songs were contributed by the likes of Kevin Welch (Millionaires), George Jones (We’re Gonna Hold On), and Don Williams (Atta Way to Go), while the arrangements that Miller employed to frame Burke’s vocals shift from the driving bluegrass that propels Bruce Springsteen’s Ain’t Got You to the galloping urgency that is affixed to Jim Lauderdale’s Seems Like You’re Gonna Take Me Back to the quiet intimacy that emanates from Tom T. Hall’s That’s How I Got to Memphis. Similarly, Burke is paired with several other vocalists, including Gillian Welch (Valley of Tears) and Patty Loveless (You’re the Kind of Trouble), while his backing band features Al Perkins, Sam Bush, Byron House, Larry Campbell, and Mickey Raphael.
Nevertheless, the success of Nashville hinges upon what Burke does with his voice. There’s little doubt that at the age of 66, he knows, better than ever, how to inhabit a song, but at times on the collection, he puzzlingly pushes the material too hard. In asking for an emotional reaction rather than delivering the lyrics — as he does on the opening That’s How I Got to Memphis — he loses some of the subtle intonations that typically have filled his material with deep meaning and resonance. Elsewhere, he and Dolly Parton never quite discover the chemistry necessary for making Tomorrow Is Forever work. Faring far better, however, is his cover of Patty Griffin’s Up to the Mountain. As he sings, "Sometimes I feel like I’ve never been nothin’ but tired/And I’ll be workin’, workin’, ’til the day I expire," he conveys a complex mixture of pride, weariness, and devotion. Likewise, he bends the anger of Does My Ring Burn Your Finger into an ominous, haunted refrain. In the end, Nashville proves to be the least notable of his three most recently issued albums, though it also is effective enough to extend his kingly reign. ½
Of Further Interest...
Nashville is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box