It's crazy that Solomon Burke has been absent from the music scene for as long as he has. Or more accurately, it's a crime that we have been ignoring him for all these years. Burke is a soul singer of the same stature as Percy Sledge (another criminally neglected artist who is still releasing new material), or Wilson Pickett, but our collective indifference/negligence for the past three decades has rendered him obsolete, at least in a commercial sense. 2002's "Don't Give Up On Me" was an aptly titled `comeback' album of Burke's that served notice, reminding us that after all these years, Solomon Burke still possesses a powerhouse of a voice, not to mention excellent taste. "Make Do With What You Got" is further evidence that Burke is back, and he is here for the long haul.
Burke is a soul singer in the truest sense of the word, but he also an artist willing to take risks and stretch himself toward new territories. "I Need Your Love in My Life" opens the album, and it is uncanny how much it rocks like a long-lost Big Star track, only with Burke's authoritative presence replacing Alex Chilton's keening tenor. A few familiar tunes appear here, but all are reformulated into something surprising and original. Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I?" (from Dylan's excellent "Oh Mercy" album) is especially surprising, wrapped in a funky shuffle that manages to suggest Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff", while adding a lighter shade to one of Dylan's more pensive compositions. Rick Danko's (another keening tenor) interpretation of Robbie Robertson's "It Makes No Difference" will always remain definitive, but Burke's powerful interpretation brings the song into a new light, bringing gospel overtones that Danko never could have suggested. Gospel music informs virtually everything on this record, but you can virtually feel the church surround you on tracks like "Fading Footsteps", "At the Crossroads" and "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul". Even The Jagger-Richards composition "I Got the Blues" sounds like it is emanating from a Memphis church.
Back in the `60s, Solomon Burke was the lifeblood for artists like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Band, providing inspiration and sometimes material for their careers. Forty years later, times have changed quite a bit, and the situation has reversed. I am convinced that there is still an audience for intelligent, heartfelt and compassionate soul music, especially when such great material is entrusted to a super-talented legend like Solomon Burke. Commercial radio programmers might not know it, but I do, and I hope you will take time to discover this for yourself as well. A- Tom Ryan