Solomon Burke – King Solomon – Atlantic Records (1968)/Pure Pleasure Records PPAN (2018) SD18158 180-gram stereo vinyl, 33:37 ****1/2:

Born in West Philadelphia, Solomon Burke wasn’t merely influenced by gospel, he was the gospel! He started preaching at 7, and was known as Boy Wonder Preacher. It seemed inevitable (as with some other gospel performers) that recording was in his future. Burke signed with Apollo Records in 1955, and released nine singles in two-years. Despite this prolific output, Burke labored in anonymity as a rhythm and blues star. After other unsuccessful attempts to revive his flagging career, he signed with Atlantic Records in 1960. With the departure of Ray Charles, the timing was important. Burke recorded a staggering 32 singles that charted on r & b lists with some cross-over appeal. “Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)”, If You Need Me” “You’re Good To Me”, “Everybody Needs Someone To Love” “Got to Get You Off My Mind” and “Tonight’s The Night” were some of the minor hits. Like other gospel singers (most notably Aretha Franklin), Burke objected to the disrespectful moniker “r & b singer”. But his live performances displayed theatrics like Jackie Wilson and James Brown, which endeared him to audiences. He was the first r & b performer to record Dylan (“Maggie’s Farm”) and was named the “King Of Rock ’N’ Soul”, appearing on stage with a crown and robe. As other artists rose to fame at Atlantic (especially Otis Redding), Burke declined in stature and commercial viability. To this day. Solomon Burke is regarded as the most under appreciated soul singer of all time.

Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram re-mastered vinyl of a seminal Atlantic album, King Solomon. Originally recorded in 1968, it represented a comeback for the “King”. This album is a primer for gospel-based r & b. Twelve tracks (most under 3:00) showcase the visceral appeal of soul music. Side 1 gets off to a rousing start with a cover of Pops Staples’ “It’s Been A Change”. Solomon brings a hard-driving “testimony” approach to this interpretation with his emotional vocals. The backup singers contribute to the gospel permeation. With a slow-burning intensity, “Take Me (Just As I Am)” is exemplary “sweet soul music” with organ shading. Solomon bares his soul and manages to give a nod to Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex and Otis Redding before the big wailing finish. “Time Is A Thief” was a hit for country artist Mickey Newbury. The King intermingles soul and country as effectively as Ray Charles. There has always been a link between these genres.

Portrait Solomon Burke

Solomon Burke

The authenticity and bluesy resonance of this performer is compelling on “Keep A Light In The Window”. The lonesome soldier’s lament to his sweetheart is brought to life in a tour-de-force vocal performance that progresses from restraint to moaning and then flat-out wailing  The horns and strings add to the poignancy. “Baby Come On Home” displays a slower, deliberate style of singing, but still expresses the potent sensual context in this reflection of lovesick blues. Solomon puts his stamp on the Bobby Bare classic, “Detroit City”. The funky soul grooves and homesick melancholy (“…if they could only read between the lines…”) glow with pathos and vocal grit. Side B opens with an accessible cover of Eddie Floyd’s “Someone Is Watching” This sounds like a Stax-type arrangement with guitar hooks and a booming saxophone run. Of course the backup vocals bring that “Sunday” feel to the number.

Switching gears, Don Covey’s “Party People” is a finger-snapping, good-time stroll line. The jaunty tempo is refreshing. Slowing it way down, “When She Touches Me (Nothing Else Matters)” exudes rawness as Burke bares his heart and soul (“…She’s mean to me, but when she touches me, nothing else matters…”) in a superb recreation of the healing power of love. The soul-balladry angst fits Burke’s vocal range. “How Do You Make You Love You Like You Do” is dynamic in its embrace of painful dedication. Burke infuses Brooke Benton’s mellow “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” with palpable gospel roots. The arrangement has great string accents and wonderful back up singing. The overall intensity build up makes this a “King Solomon” translation. In a surprising finale, a self-penned holiday opus “Presents For Christmas” includes a shout out to disc jockeys and policemen in a hybrid of Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett.

It is hard to fathom how a singer this talented never became a major star (and legendary producer Jerry Wexler agrees). He did not receive a Grammy until 2003. Pure Pleasure Records has done a superior job in re-mastering King Solomon to 180-gram vinyl. The overall mix is balanced with Burke’s soulful voice in the front. Both the grittiness and fluid tonality of Burke are captured with a radiating warmth. All of the instrumentation is folded in to surround the vocals.

Long live the King Of Rock ’N’ Soul!       

TrackList:
Side 1: It’s Been A Change; Take Me (Just As I Am); Time Is A Thief; Keep a Light In The Window; Baby Come On Home; Detroit City
Side 2: Someone Is Watching; Party People; When She Touches Me (Nothing Else Matters); Woman; How Do You Make Me Love You Like You Do; It’s Just A Matter Of Time; Presents For Christmas

—Robbie Gerson