Solomon Burke – Live at Montreux (2013)

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Age and precipitous weight gain had, by this point, robbed Solomon Burke of his mobility — but, as this 2006 performance at Montreux illustrates, none of the passion and power that once made him the Boy Wonder Preacher in 1950s Philadelphia.

Burke, who died in 2010, can be found on the multi-format Live at Montreux (available on CD, DVD and digital audio this week from Eagle Rock) once again illustrating how he helped push blues and gospel toward a grittier, more modern R&B form. A robust set list, including many songs associated with his early soul-music contemporaries, plays a key role.

Old-time fans will thrill to new renditions of tracks from Burke’s early-1960s stint with Atlantic (including “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” and “Got to Get You Off My Mind”), but it might just be elsewhere that Live at Montreux makes its best case for Burke as soul music’s most underrated early architect. The fact of the matter is, for all of Burke’s vocal prowess, he never had a genre-defining hit, so his spirited takes here on familiar cultural touchstones from Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Little Richard and the gospel canon often end up making stronger arguments for his foundational importance. Each of those singers, it seemed, got something from Burke.

It’s worth noting that Burke kept trying for that touchstone moment, represented here by “None of Us Are Free” from 2002’s Don’t Give Up On Me. But he passed having never achieved the fame he so rightly deserved. A consummate, bone-deep stylist, Burke’s ability to take control of a lyric is what impresses most as this 20-track Live from Montreux comes to a close.

There was, it seemed, nothing Burke couldn’t handle, even just a few years away from his death on an airport tarmac while en route to a concert in Amsterdam. He just needed better material.

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