Solomon Burke – The Night the Bishop Came To Town (Rattlesnake RS 178)


The Night the Bishop Came To Town (Rattlesnake RS 178)

28th Vilaria Gasteiz Jazz Festival, Mendizarrotza, Gasteiz, Spain – July 14th, 2004 

(79:51):  The Greeting Song / Down In The Valley / Diamond In Your Mind / A Change Is Gonna Come / Medley : He’ll Have To Go / If You Need Me / Tonight’s The Night / Cry To Me : Soul Searchin’ / Soul Clan Medley : Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay / Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa ( Sad Song ) / Spanish Harlem / Stand By Me : Georgia On My Mind / Medley : Got To Get You Off My Mind / Having A Party / Amen : Band Introduction / I Will Survive ( Vocal – Candy Burke ) / You Are So Beautiful ( Vocal – Solomon Burke Jr. ) / Don’t Give Up On Me / Proud Mary / May The Good Lord Bless & Keep You ( The Blessing Song ) / Medley : Long Tall Sally / Lucille / Good Golly Miss Molly / Tutti Frutti / Shake Rattle ‘N’ Roll : Only You / Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. 

In 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Solomon Burke was still quietly working behind the lines – making movie appearances, guest appearances on other artists albums such as Zucchero, Junkie XL & The Blind Boys Of Alabama all while he was maintaining quite a healthy touring schedule – Solomon was by no means a sporadic worker, indeed in the months before his passing he had been busily touring & preparing his new album, a collaboration with De Dijk the Dutch pop / soul band – This release though features Solomon & his family band at the 28th Vitoria Gasteiz Jazz Festival in Mendizorrotza, Gasteiz on the 14th of July, 2004. Still promoting his Emmy award winning album “Don’t Give Up On Me” 

A brilliant, if dry, soundboard that brings Solomon’s vocals right up to the front without sacrificing too much of the backing band or singers. Fading up shortly in to “The Greeting Song” the sound is of an all American jam bar band with Solomon eulogizing about the show that the audience have come to see – as the band have never usually played to a set list & would just leap around genres & times, the standard was usually that, in Solomon’s own words : “It’s like turning back the hands of time instantly. We can be in the middle of singing something from my recent ‘Like A Fire’ album and they’ll call out ‘Stupidity’ from 1957 and we’re back 50 years!”.

Solomon’s voice is a little raspy tonight, which he acknowledges, but he really puts his heart & voice in to everything that he sings. Usually performing sat down in his throne to act as “The King” it does nothing to shorten his vocals & the set just rages through with neither singers or band pausing even momentarily for breath. “Down In The Valley” – a B side from 1962 & a song that was also covered by Otis Reading begins the set proper & it races past with tumultuous speed creating a relentlessly happy party mood only to slip in to the slower but still as joyous “Diamond In Your Mind” – Written my none other than song writing team, Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan –  a spin on from a rousing choral stomp to a gospel styled rapture. Next we turn to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Even slower still but a great testament to Solomon’s magnificent voice via an arrangement thats slightly more sparsely orchestrated than the rest of his set tonight using only a bold organ, marching drum lines & muted horns. Solomon thanks Spain towards the end in a small but appreciative nod to the country that welcomes him. This is followed by a small break in proceedings for Solomon to catch his breath & to tell the audience that it’s their night & they’ll be royally entertained. He also offers the audience the fact the flowers that adorn the stage are for the ladies in the audience.

This leads in to a sedate start to a Medley of American Classics including Billy Brown’s “He’ll Have To Go”, Solomon’s own “If You Need Me”, The Shirelles’ version of “Tonight’s The Night” & another of Solomon’s songs “Cry To Me” that raises the pace once again to reach a euphoric mood which continues, a little slower, throughout the following track. The next melody is dedicated to a list of lost names – Don Corvay, Ben. E. King, Wilson Picket, Joe Tex, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin & is made up of, the final name on the list, Otis Reading’s songs. “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa ( Sad Song ), Spanish Harlem & Stand By Me” are very faithful renditions given a little push to bring out the party mood at the festival. Pushed to use his voice to the hilt but giving it his best shot Solomon sings sweetly but also lets his voice roar with respect to his fallen comrades.

He also dedicates “Stand By Me” to the people of Spain, sighting the problems that America were having at that time & the troubles that the then president was inflicting on the country, thanking Spain for their help in resenting the war that was ever unfolding. 

“Georgia On My Mind” a cover of the Ray Charles song allows a little more down time or a time to swing your lighter through the air. Through out Solomon co-acts with the crowd before bringing in Carl for the saxophone accompaniment & inviting various female members of the audience to sit in on stage with him. He winds it up with a triumphal holler while the horns breath their best in to the night sky. Another melody appears encompassing “Got To Get You Off My Mind”, “Having A Party” & “Amen” – while Solomon get scores more ladies to join him on stage & hands out more roses.

It’s another reason to get people rocking as a mean, spiky guitar solo from Cookie man Brad is thrown in to the mix to only heightens the pleasure. By the end all hands are clapping, the organ is whirling up a storm as Solomon exhorts everyone to get in to the party mood before the crashing finale. A lengthy band introduction follows accompanied by a bed of the band slinking along with a sleepy groove. Candy Burke, one of Solomon’s 21 children, then steps forward for a fluttery, karaoke version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” although backed up with a crack shot backing band.

A chip off the old block next as Solomon Burke Jr. sings the standard “You Are So Beautiful” to the birthday people of the crowd. It’s safe to say neither of the children have inherited their fathers vocal chops but with respect he really is a hard act to follow no no amount of home schooling could bring out a voice like his. The title track from the most recent album follows next with “Don’t Give Up On Me.” Solomon mentions this is ‘The healing song’ & asks that people use this time in praying for people & keeping them in mind while they seek quiet reflection.

It’s quite clear why this track should have spear – headed the album as it’s a hurricane of power. An all powerful vocal by Solomon almost raises the roof straight off of it’s structure. “Proud Mary” is another industrious take on an already famous ( John Fogerty ) song & it burns like fire. Leaping out from the shadow of “Don’t Give Up .. ” it explodes from the stage with pomp & power & by the end you’ll bet there’s not a dry eye or forehead in the house.

The pace slows for another spiritual coming together via the standard “May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You” despite it’s peaceful edge Solomon still sings like a bird but despite the fact that he’s mentioned his sore throat earlier is won’t stop him furrowing straight in to another medley of R’n’R oldies virtually tearing his vocal chords on the tumult of “Long Tall Sally / Lucille / Good Golly Miss Molly / Tutti Frutti & Shake Rattle & Roll” He’s working just as hard as his band are rocking now as they each take a turn to show off their flashy musician skills. A raucous electric guitar line weaves it’s way around solid memphis horns which snake between a rapt drum beat that in turn wraps together the manic piano & organ playing in to an exuberant whole. All this while the speed of these renditions ramps up faster & faster to hit giddy speeds of glorious delusion. 

The encores feature a heavenly “Only You ( And You Alone )”. Another chance to hold lighters & phones aloft & take in the glory of the evening. We end with a spirited version of Solomon’s greatest hit in the form of “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” Solomon relinquishes his voice by this time & just tears in to his vocals for everything he’s got. The horns spike playfully& the guitar is out in force once more before coming to a brilliantly crashing ending that seals the fun in to the evening 

At the time it seemed like an odd choice for Rattlesnake to put out a Solomon Burke album – True “Don’t Give Up On Me” was Mojo Magazines album of 2002 & most of the songs on that album were written by a varied combination of contemporaries but while most of the top labels were prepared to stick with the top names that they knew would sell then it was a brave move by RS & it simply works. There are very few of the old school how could still have pulled it off like this at such a late stage in to their career. The glossy 8 page booklet features various promo shots & stage photos of Solomon & his band in sepia tones & full colour.

It’s a testament to a wonderful, kind & thankful gentleman & highlights a show that everyone should have been able to witness first hand at some point. Although we’ll never now get that chance then we still have this fantastic set to remind us of what a powerhouse he was. 

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  1. I had the good fortune to see Solomon Burke about four years ago at the Detroit Festival of the Arts – Bettye Lavette went on before him ( !! ) – and it was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen! His fabulous band was gathered onstage crackling with energy before the show even started, and after a couple numbers by them King Solomon was brought out in his throne. He regaled us with his humor, wisdom, and stories about the Motor City and laid his blessings upon us for the next two hours. This Rattlesnake release captures that essence very closely, and I purchased it on the strength of the Detroit gig. The only thing better would be video. Recommended! Excellent review, Stuart!


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