Solomon Burke – “Nothing’s Impossible” (2010)

August 20, 2010 at 10:43 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Solomon Burke’s collaboration with the recently deceased Willie Mitchell, this review comes from Don McLeese (April 30, 2010) on the Sonic Boomers website…

Producers love Solomon Burke.  His larger-than-life artistry has drawn some of the best in the business, attracted by a vocal presence that sounds like a force of nature, equal parts sexual and spiritual, a power that can never be tamed but might somehow be harnessed.  With recent releases, Buddy Miller took Burke to Nashville, where the result was less a country album than a Solomon Burke album. Similarly, Joe Henry had Burke record material by a host of modern masters (Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello et al.) , and the singer made their songs his own.

With Nothing’s Impossible, released in the wake of Burke’s 70th birthday celebration in March,  the self-proclaimed “Legendary King of Rock & Soul” has met his match.  The album represents an inspired collaboration with the late Willie Mitchell, the only time that Burke had worked with the Memphis production kingpin, in sessions that could well be Mitchell’s final studio project before his death on January 5.

Whatever the expectation for the pairing, the album exceeds them.  It is Burke at his best. It is a signature production by Mitchell, who wrote much of the material (including one standout track, “Dreams,” with Burke), and crafted the same sort of arrangements that distinguish his classics with Al Green and other artists within his Hi Records stable, even employing some of the same musicians (including guitarist Mabon “Teenie” Hodges).

And it is easily, irresistibly, one of the best releases of this young year, certainly the best of old-school soul.  The arrangements underscore the collaboration’s mastery from the start, as the opening “Oh What a Feeling” offers the bluesy sting of Bobby Manuel’s guitar over the gospel organ bedrock of Lester Snell amid the swell of the New Memphis Strings.

Stage set, Burke commands it like the chitlin’ circuit equivalent of Hamlet or Lear, not so much singing as much as exhorting, declaiming, engaging in a fevered call-and-response (with himself? No other singer is credited) as the performance builds to its orgasmic peak: “Feels so good, I don’t wanna wake up!  I don’t wanna wake up! I don’t wanna wake up. . .” You can hear the cadences of an artist who has combined (like the Rev. Al Green) a vocation as a preacher with his career as a soul singer, and the almost biblical potency of a man who has spawned 21 children (and 90 grandchildren).

A gospel prodigy at the age of 14, Burke brings that passion to the pursuit of more secular rewards throughout these 12 cuts.  Lest one fear that he has shot his artistic wad with that fevered opening performance, he continues to scale such peaks throughout the album, his over-the-top effusion providing an exquisite tension with the silky grooves of Mitchell and the musicians.

You could easily envision “Dreams” on an Al Green album from the sound of the arrangement alone–the luminous organ, the almost subliminal guitar of Teenie Hodges, the majesty of the strings punctuated by the brass of the Royal Horns. But where the eternally boyish Green remains the sly seducer, coaxing in his falsetto, Burke is the bull in the china shop of his reverie: “Don’t shake me, don’t wake me, from this dream/If you do I’ll scream, scream, scream!”  This is a man who’ll never settle for one scream when he can muster three. (As for his dream, I’ll have whatever he has.)

Where that song provides the perfect merging of the artistic sensibilities of artist and producer, Burke’s two solo compositions have a decidedly down-home feel, with the bluesy swagger of “Everything About You” and the funky reassurance of “You’re Not Alone” attesting to the timelessness of his artistry. On the former (and plenty of other cuts as well), the piercing solo saxophone of Lannie McMillan uses the pocket provided by bassist Dave Smith and drummer Steve Potts as a launching pad, soaring straight through the heart of the arrangement.

As for the only composition not credited to either artist or producer, the conviction that Burke’s baritone brings to “You Needed Me” is so strong that you’d never guess this had been an Anne Murray hit.   

Burke’s recent work represents a crowning achievement for an artist who never received quite the crossover renown of contemporaries such as James Brown and Wilson Pickett, and whose hits such as “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and “Cry to Me” were introduced to many rock fans through covers by the Rolling Stones. The music here sounds so vital it would have been a highlight at any stage of Burke’s career. Listeners should just be thankful that Solomon Burke and Willie Mitchell got together before it was too late.

Don McLeese

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