Don't Give Up On Me

If you're a songwriter and one day the phone rings and somebody tells you soul giant Solomon Burke is recording again and looking for songs, you really have only one option: Get busy. Even if you're Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello or Tom Waits. Burke is the rare singer who makes songwriters sound wise beyond their words — he finds ache lying dormant in unlikely places and manages to pinpoint, with GPS accuracy, the murky emotional terrain within the lyrics. He's been singing definitive versions of soul songs since back when the Stones (who covered his "Cry to Me") were kids, showing men how to plead with passion and dignity, teaching all who would listen the virtues of patience.When producer Joe Henry put out the call for material, folks Burke had influenced — such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Waits, Wilson, Costello, Nick Lowe and Dan Penn — responded with melodies well suited to the legend's bearish, exceptionally sensitive (and remarkably well-preserved) baritone. Patterning their songs on the declarative balladry and blues-inflected gospel of Burke's Atlantic classics, these writers give Burke plenty of room to work his slow-cooked magic. Some tracks sound as if they could be forgotten gems from the heyday of soul (Penn's anguished title plea, Costello's courtroom drama "The Judgment"), and some have the galvanizing intensity of spirituals (Henry's "Flesh and Blood," Waits' timeless "Diamond in Your Mind"), but all of them share one essential trait: They wouldn't be nearly as rousing sung by anybody else.