Sunday, October 10, 2010

Solomon Burke - Down in the Valley

I'm sure a good majority of you have heard the sad news of Solomon Burke's passing this morning. If you're unfamiliar with Dr. Burke (as he liked to call himself), he was one of the pioneer Soul singers of the 1960's and is largely responsible for the mainstream/crossover success of the genre. In my opinion he was the most versatile of all his peers, he could utilize his sweet voice in any number of ways: from deep baritone to screaming falsetto. He certainly stands out among the plethora of Soul Singers working his era, mostly due to his severe talent and also due to his larger-than-life personality. I suggest reading Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, as Big Sol plays a primary role in the book and a crucial link between all other working entertainers. There are amazing stories about Sol outwitting, and ultimately performer to, a large gathering of KKK members and duping the promoter of The Apollo into allowing Burke "full concessions." Those are abstract summaries of the stories he tells in the book but it's definitely worth it to read them in full.

Now, on to the tune. "Down in the Valley," was co-written by Burke and Bert Berns in 1962 and was later, more famously, covered by Otis Redding on Otis Blue. As much as I love the Otis version it has nothing on the original. Burke displays his supreme grasp over his craft in this sweet blend of Country and Soul that he was most known for. The lyrics are exceptional, and the metaphorically biblical undertones are not to be overlooked (he was a working preacher after all). Just sit back and appreciate Burke's true artform so rarely found in modern times.

Rest in peace, Big Sol.

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