Solomon Burke: King of Blues and Soul

Maurice Bottomley

Solomon Burke

King of Blues and Soul

Label: Fuel 2000
US Release Date: 2001-03-06

This reissue will probably slip by unnoticed simply because it will be assumed to be yet another re-packaging of Solomon Burke's 1960s back catalogue. In fact, it is a second chance to get an earful of a really solid blues album. For this CD revives the very tasty Soul of the Blues set (Black Top 1993), with the added bonus of about half of a live gig (Live at the House of Blues, 1994). If vintage sounding rhythm and blues, played properly and featuring a vocalist second to none appeals to you -- and why should it not -- then give this a try.

Solomon Burke mixed up rock 'n' roll, gospel and country to become one of the key soul men in the genre's formative period. His rhythm and blues credentials were always known to be in impeccable order but how able he would prove at handling a fairly straight blues set could only be guessed at -- until he made this remarkable recording. At the time, 30 years past his "peak", it seemed a rather humble project. Get Burke down to New Orleans and give him a few standards to play with -- OK for die-hard fans but just one more date for a star whose public profile had long since diminished. That the resulting performances transcend the limits of those modest ambitions is due to a number of key ingredients which should serve as an object lesson for those putting together an album that re-visits the musical past.

Firstly make sure the musicians are from the top drawer and have a feeling for the material. New Orleans is a good place to try this as R&B (old style) still has a life in that city. If this record does nothing else it should raise the profile of such unsung heroes as guitarists Clarence Holliman and Sam Mayfield or the lately departed organist Sammy Berfect. In contrast to many sessions of this nature, the players are completely at ease, being absolutely steeped in both the basics and the nuances of the form. They are constantly inventive but do not over-power the material with extended solos, as has been too often the case with recent all-star sessions. This is a perfect, selfless in-house band in the grand tradition. There is not a single riff, chorus or accompanying phrase that jars or lacks authenticity.

Secondly, choose material that shows off the singer's strengths. Burke has a voice to kill for with certain distinguishing characteristics. It is immensely powerful and is equally suited to out and out stompers and emotion-drenched ballads. That is essentially how this record breaks down, with the slower tunes given slightly more space, deservedly so as it turns out. An unpredictable factor is how much relish and personal flavour the artist will bring to the studio. On the evidence here the big man was genuinely fired by the occasion and sings with an urgency and authority that can hardly be faulted. This is, thankfully, not one of those exercises where the legend just goes through the motions. Burke pulls not a single punch.

Nearly all the songs are taken from the early 1950s, the golden age of rhythm and blues. The tunes tackled here were first recorded by the likes of Roy Brown,Big Maybelle, Percy Mayfield, Little Walter, T-Bone Walker, Johnny Ace, Little Willie John and Guitar Slim. That is a daunting list but the versions here are valid in their own right and, if it is not heresy to say it, are quite often every bit as good as the originals. Burke is given ample room to stamp his (ample) personality on each tune and does so with considerable force.

Don't be put off by the fact that the album opens with the overly recorded "Good Rockin' Tonight". It works. Burke gives such an exuberant rendition that he makes the song momentarily his, vying joyously with the horn section to drive home the simple message. Think Joe Turner with a gospel inflection and that is Solomon in his uptempo mode. Roy Brown would be proud of him. Turner himself actually gets a direct nod when "Crawdad Hole" is given similar treatment later on. These are the best of the faster cuts. The reading of Walker's "Street Walking Woman" is rather lacking in character and could be any of a number of vocalists.Fortunately, for most of the album you are in absolutely no doubt that Solomon is in the house.

A good example is a stunning and refreshingly different take on the Willie Dixon classic "My Babe". Though it shares the harmonica sound of Little Walter's definitive version, the song is treated here in jump blues style and gets low-down and earthy in the best fashion. At the real slow blues end of the scale, Guitar Slim's "Sufferin' Mind" and "Along About Midnight" plus Sonny Boy Williamson's "No Night's By Myself" are all handled adroitly. These are deep, deep tunes and get a suitably weighty treatment. Here a blues shouter's full throated delivery is allied to the more soulful Bobby Bland-B.B. King style with stirring results.

But there is better yet to come. Burke's claim to fame was his blending of various musical idioms so it should be no surprise that the songs of the period that were already starting to do that should hold a special appeal to him. There are a trio of these and they are given the full, no-holds-barred treatment. Blues purists will find these "over the top" but they will be wrong to dismiss either the lush arrangements or the richness of sentiment the singer achieves. Check out the New Orleans flavour of "Candy", the haunting organ-work on "Letter from My Darling" and the respectful accompaniment to Johnny Ace's era-defining "Pledging My Love". But most of all check out that voice. This is soulfulness in all its unashamed, heartfelt glory and if you think it is corny then this is the wrong genre for you.

As for the extract from the concert, it is good enough but is really a greatest hits medley and you would be better advised to seek out the actual older product. You do get a sense of the presence and vocal range of a man whose stage shows are unique and often overwhelming. There is intensity enough, though, in the studio set. As it is matched by great control and precision in the presentation and delivery of the songs, the sum total is an album whose peaks have been rarely matched by this singular and historically important singer. Well done to Fuel 2000 for rescuing this gem. Don't let it be ignored twice.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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