When legendary artists like B.B. King or James Brown grow old and start resting on their laurels, it’s easy to forgive them. After all, they’ve long since earned the right to sit back, enjoy life and let the new kids pick up the slack. But, even at 64 years old, Solomon Burke refuses to go through the motions.
The sound here is nothing new, but on Make Do With What You Got—the follow-up to Burke’s subdued 2002 masterpiece Don’t Give Up On Me—he does just that, using his roof-raising, gospel-tinged belting to make classic ’60s- and- ’70s-style soul seem right at home in the information age. Aided by producer Don Was, and a supporting cast of studio cats who’ve backed everyone from Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye to Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, Burke turns out a big-sounding record that plays like a Stax Revue. Even ’80s R&B icon Ray Parker, Jr., drops in on the action, lending some tasteful guitar fills, and believe you me, this ain’t no “Ghostbusters.”
From the Keith Richards rhythm guitar and “Angel of Harlem” horn section on “I Need Your Love In My Life” to the Sunday-morning rendition of Hank Williams’ “Wealth Won’t Save Your Soul,” Burke cranks up the volume. And the album’s song selection is nearly as impeccable as its predecessor. With moving takes on The Band, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Dr. John, Burke further cements his reputation as one of the greatest living song interpreters in American music.
The singer rose to prominence during Atlantic Records’ soul-stirring ’60s heyday, albeit in the shadow of folks like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Though Burke had plenty of R&B hits, he never had the crossover success of his contemporaries, but that didn’t stop him from influencing ’60s rockers like the Stones. Early on, Mick, Keith and company covered two Burke tunes—“Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” and “Cry To Me.”
Now, with Burke’s cover of the Sticky Fingers gem “I Got The Blues,” his connection to the Stones comes full circle. With sweltering Hammond organ, bursting horns and steady-as-she-goes guitar picking, the former child preacher rides a slow-cresting sonic wave to the song’s gospel-choir chorus. The music builds to a rave-up crescendo and Burke starts screaming sermon-like ad-libs from his pulpit of heartache—“I got the blues for you! I won’t tell ya! Look what you doing to me baby! I cut off all my hair! I don’t know which way to turn! I can’t watch TV! I can’t watch The Late Show! Find myself three o’clock in the morning cryin’! Baby, you somewhere watching the Rolling Stones! I’m laying here in this bed of blues all alone!”
With all the soul-music luminaries who’ve passed on, fallen from grace or faded into obscurity, Burke is now the genre’s torchbearer, and Make Do With What You Got is proof he still has the mojo to deliver the goods.