Solomon Burke

Only the Best of Solomon Burke

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This box set from Collectables pulls together five of Solomon Burke's 1960s albums for Atlantic Records (If You Need Me, Rock 'N' Soul, King Solomon, I Wish I Knew, and Got to Get You Off My Mind), each of which has also been released as an individual album by Collectables. The soul explosion of the time was both a boon and a bane for Solomon. No one was better at bringing the churchy tones of hard gospel into the secular arena, but as the genre became more popular, Burke -- instead of just keeping on doing what he had been doing -- began to reach out for wider acceptance, choosing songs more for their mass appeal than for their worthiness. But he was too fine a singer to ever deliver an album without stunning tracks, and there are several examples here of Burke at his best, including the gospel-fueled vintage R&B cover of the Staple Singers' "It's Been a Change," and the hard country punch of "Detroit City." Burke was always most at home with soul ballads, and there are several of those here as well, including a particularly fine version of Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn's "Take Me (Just as I Am)." He also tackles some fairly inappropriate songs like Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" or rehashes songs already definitively done, like a totally unnecessary rendition of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." Burke's act always teetered near parody anyway, but as long as he tackled songs suited to his Sam Cooke on steroids voice, songs only one half step removed from Sunday morning gospel, it all balanced perfectly. It was when he made a conscious move away from his gospel roots into the pop arena that he stumbled and lost his way. There are enough stunning songs here, though, to make this box well worth seeking out, for at his best, Burke was simply unbeatable.

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