By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Burke laughs again, dismissing the honors as stemming from an early-'60s show he did for Bishop where most of his band was delayed by a car accident and he was forced to cobble together an impromptu outfit from the supporting acts' backing troupes. (Others suggest that such a situation prevents Burke from merely phoning in a performance or, conversely, "oversouling" the songs to mask any unfamiliarity with the material.)
HIS FORMIDABLE STRING OF '60s SMASHES ("Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," "Cry to Me," "Got To Get You Off of My Mind" and "Just Out of Reach," for openers) and recent election to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame notwithstanding, certain soul aficionados say that Burke has shown a predilection for placing non-musical concerns -- aside from his ministry, he's a licensed mortician who often augmented his performance income by selling fried-chicken sandwiches and lemonade to his fellow artists at prices that climbed as the tour bus wound its way farther from obliging restaurants -- ahead of his career. Others cite Burke's suavely cosmopolitan, endlessly versatile vocal style as being more subtle, more sophisticated, more adult than the mannered bouts of hysteria favored by many of his more celebrated contemporaries.
Burke modestly describes his voice as "a gift from God," noting that, aside from the religious music that surrounded him as a child, "The only other music I was allowed to hear was by the cowboys -- Gene Autry and Roy Rogers." (He breaks into a few bars of "Back in the Saddle Again," as if to explain why his first hit -- 1961's "Just Out of Reach" -- was a cover of a country song, recorded a year prior to Ray Charles' Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.)
"But my grandmother also told me to listen to Perry Como, 'cause of how smooth he was, and Nat 'King' Cole, 'cause you could hear how he pronounced every word. Dean Martin, Al Hibbler" -- Burke mimics the latter's version of "Unchained Melody" -- "those so-called crooners were the guys I heard on the radio when I was growing up, so I took that and incorporated it into gospel, and they called it soul music."
A superb raconteur, Burke illustrates his stories with hilarious imitations (Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding arguing about their preferences in luxury cars) that often resolve in punch lines. (His version of Bob Dylan's contribution to his new disc name-checks the song's composer -- twice.) He offers unsolicited career advice ("You should have a TV show! You should be a record producer! You should write a cookbook!") and exchanges culinary tips ("How many layers in your lasagna? I do seven. Make it in a turkey roasting pan"). Upon learning that his noir-jazz rendition of Joe Henry's "Flesh and Blood" is a personal highlight of the new LP, he remembers my tale of the first meal I cooked for my girlfriend. "Yeah, that's perfect for your Shrimp Diane."
Yeah, well, it's beautiful, timeless, classic music. There's gotta be an audience for that, right?