When Solomon Burke sings, you can hear his smiling eyes — he’s having a laugh at hisdetractors. Over the past half-decade, the 68-year-old soul titan defiedthe odds, re-emerging from commercial oblivion with a string of albumsthat showcase his genius for ragged-voiced ballads, and for pureblarney. You can hear the latter on Like a Fire‘s title track, whereBurke delivers the most hackneyed rhymes — “burning in my soul”rhymes with “yearning to be whole” — with an endearingly hammybaritone rumble.
Like a Fire pairs the old master with younger gueststars (Keb’ Mo’, Ben Harper) on songs that emphasize Burke’s uptemposide. Producer Steve Jordan gives the music a clattery, funkyunderpinning, and though the material isn’t as strong as 2006’scountry-soul tour de force Nashville, Burke wrings maximum pathos andhumor even from the weakest stuff. The highlight: A wonderfully blusteryreading of the cocktail jazz standard “If I Give My Heart to You.” It’sproof that Burke could spend his sunset years enthroned on a Vegasconcert stage.