The tremendous, triumphant voice of Solomon Burke embodies so much: Philly and Muscle Shoals; the pulpit and the stage; soul and country and rock and gospel. On Don't Give Up on Me, Burke's highest profile offering in at least 20 years, a storied collection of writers have provided the words for that voice to carry. Among the contributing songwriters are Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe, a testament to Burke's legacy and long-standing appeal. If the album, produced with a respectful lack of fussiness by the estimable Joe Henry and recorded live in the studio with a simpatico five-piece, doesn't quite live up to the transcendence that this marriage of message and deliverer promises on paper, it still takes you places that most other records can only dream of.
"Soul Searchin'" and "Diamond in Your Mind"--Wilson/Andy Paley and Waits/ Kathleen Brennan cowrites, respectively--may be the first to grab you, but that's because they represent the lightest musical moments here. Consider them cooling breezes in the middle of a slow-brewing storm. Other songs offer more in the way of staying power, most notably the two Morrison contributions ("Only a Dream" and the Band-ish "Fast Train," both of which surfaced on his own recent release) and Elvis Costello and wife Cait O'Riordan's heart-on-trial saga, "The Judgment." And it's fitting that Dan Penn, he of "Dark End of the Street," "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man," and so many other quintessential country-soul ballads, was the lead writer on the album-opening title track.
But the best is saved for second-to-last, the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil/Brenda Russell collaboration "None of Us Are Free," a song previously recorded by Ray Charles on 1993's My World. The titular chorus is the most timeless of messages, and Burke (with superb help from the Blind Boys of Alabama) makes it sound both ancient and urgent.