February 7th, 2008
Artist: Solomon Burke
Label: MVD Visual
Catalog No.: MVDV4608
Solomon Burke seems to have built a forty-year career on almost getting the attention he deserves. His fame with Atlantic in the 1960s was overshadowed by the phenomenal pop success of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. While he has steadily recorded albums throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, it wasn’t until 2002′s Don’t Give Up On Me, which included songs written by devoted fans Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and others, that Burke’s name garnered much attention.
Burke’s new concert film The King Live at AVO SESSION Basel offers a glimpse of the power of Burke, and a spirited testament to his passion that fuels that power, but also reminds us that somehow this larger than life man sometimes gets overlooked. Filmed for European television in the Swiss city of Basel, the concert sets a PBS-type tone with its polite crowd of middle-aged concert-goers seated cabaret style in a large theatre lit for television. Except for organ player Rudy Copeland, the band assembled is unremarkable. Dressed in tuxedos, they remind the viewer of a suburban wedding before the dancing has started. Their opening instrumental, “Back At the Chicken Shack,” fails to arouse any sense of excitement in the crowd or via television. It isn’t until midway through another extended instrumental riff, called “the greeting song,” that we hear Burke, offstage, announce his presence. Yet, as he begs the audience, “Are you ready?” he is met with no visible excitement. Nothing so far has seemed to indicate that Burke still has it.
When Burke does arrive onstage, cloaked in a red velvet cape, sporting a black fedora, sunglasses, his son helping his 500 pound frame onstage, the energy is still forced. These days Burke only performs sitting down in a majestic gold chair center stage, book-ended with vases containing dozens of long stem red roses. His first song from his thrown, “Down In The Valley,” is lackluster and still feels forced, although it is obvious soon enough that though he may not rock like he used to, his voice has lost nothing over the years. In fact, it has gained not only weight and depth, but commitment and even, if it is possible, more power.
When he launches into “Diamond In Your Mind,” the Tom Waits tune from Don’t Give Up On Me, we start to see glimpses of the power within. His deep baritone dominates the sound of each song and for the next hour he burns though old and new, including medleys by his more recognizable cohorts, including one Otis/Aretha/Ben E. King set of “Dock of the Bay/Fa Fa Fa/ Spanish Harlem/ Stand By Me.” Still the crowd is more preoccupied with the roses he’s tossing out than with the music. Burke doesn’t seem to mind, always looking like a King who’s enjoying his own party. Burke is equally comfortable with the songs he’s recorded in the past few years as he is with Marvin Gaye covers, and his own hits “Cry To Me” and “Proud Mary” show the commitment Burke has to the music, whether or not anyone is paying attention.
The 75 minute concert concludes in a prolonged version of Burke’s best known song “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” made famous by the Rolling Stones and given a third life by The Blues Brothers film. After much prodding Burke gets the audience on-stage, surrounding himself with dancers and singers, and at one point gives the mic to an audience member as Burke moves among those dancing, eventually disappearing behind his fans, his band, and his music.
The DVD extras offer no insight to the music, musician, or concert but consist entirely of tourist information about the city of Basel and promotional material for the AVO SESSION series. Those who wish to know more about the man described as “one of the greatest living exponents of classic soul” will have to wait for the new DVD Everybody Needs Somebody. Scheduled for a U.S. release next month, the documentary promises to provide “the definitive fully-authorized story of Solomon Burke.”
Posted by Thomas Grant Richardson