Like a Fire
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6
Written by John Metzger
Wed June 18, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Since releasing Don’t Give Up on Me in 2002, Solomon Burke has been a man on a mission to make up for lost time. The endeavor not only paired him with producer Joe Henry as well as a team of high-profile songwriters who long had admired the work that he did during the 1960s, but it also sparked his unlikely comeback. Burke’s follow-up set Make Do with What You Got swapped Henry’s understated production for incendiary rock ’n‘ roll, while his 2006 outing Nashville found him applying his impassioned vocals to country-tinged fare. It is, therefore, safe to say that, since his return, Burke hasn’t stayed in one place for very long, and certainly no one could accuse him of reclaiming his fame by repeatedly pouring over the same old ground.
In a sense, what Burke deftly has accomplished with his recent string of albums is to remind the world of his stylistic range as a performer. After all, nothing that was featured on any of these endeavors was truly new to his repertoire, though he had slipped so far from view that he rarely was cited as an influence on anyone. Once he completed his trilogy, however, he undeniably was firmly back in the limelight. Yet, he now faced the difficult decision of how to frame his next recording.
Not surprisingly, Burke uses Like a Fire to bring everything together. For a moment, it works, too. The country-imbued essence of The Fall sits comfortably next to the swampy blues of A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray, which in turn brushes ever so pleasantly against the jovial bounce of Ain’t that Something. Yet, one is left with the nagging feeling that something is missing.
Unfortunately, in creating Like a Fire, Burke and producer Steve Jordan also chose to take a more modern approach to presenting the material, though this, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the entire problem with the set. Despite the slick, adult contemporary arrangements that are employed throughout Like a Fire, Burke’s voice remains in fine form, and he delivers the songs on the endeavor as well as anyone possibly could. Unlike many of today’s artists, Burke doesn’t attack the lyrics by adorning them with ridiculously long streams of trills, notes, and other distractions. He sings them sweetly and purely, elevating the emotional content with the subtle nuances that are inherent in his vocal inflections. In fact, he frequently salvages what could have been a rather drab outing by simply being himself. Surely, fans of 21st century R&B-imbued pop could stand to see someone of his caliber infiltrate their realm.
The bigger issue, however, is that Like a Fire falls prey to the same forces that caused Burke’s career to veer off-track in the first place: To put it simply, he was handed a batch of lesser songs to cover, and although he tried to run with them, he can’t seem to escape their undertow. Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’, and Jesse Harris all wrote material specifically for the endeavor, but their contributions unimaginatively adhere to clichés. The title track, which was penned by Clapton, sounds like an inferior leftover from Pilgrim, while Harper’s A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray scuttles a good groove with an arena-ready chorus that was bred for mass consumption.
Sometimes the music on Like a Fire sounds great; at other moments, the songs themselves erase the raw edge that Burke brings to the table. Ultimately, it all comes dangerously close to feeling rather empty. Although the album won’t entirely displease his flock of fans, they also will recognize that Burke is a better performer than Like a Fire ever really allows him to be.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box