Solomon Burke was, not just in the figurative sense, a big man in soul. He however never quite became an icon. Despite his tremendous voice, he flew just below the commercial radar during his entire career, never scoring the big hits. His popularity experienced a slight resurgence in the last decade with Don’t Give Up On Me
, an album for which the likes of Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits penned him songs. A few years later, Burke’s onstage encounter with Dutch rock band De Dijk, a group legendary in their own country, led to great enthusiasm on both sides, and eventually to their collaborative recording Hold on Tight
. It proved to be Burke's final work, and with his death at Schiphol Airport last year, the very destination he didn’t reach being a performance of the album with De Dijk, his last deeds as musician inevitably tie him to the Netherlands.
Hold on Tight
is essentially De Dijk translating a collection of their songs to English for Burke to sing, accompanying him with their original instrumentation. The combination may seem odd on paper: a legend of soul performing with what could not be a more vintage example of real Dutch rock. De Dijk have however always had a soul influence in their music, and Burke’s voice lends itself very well to their sound. Translating their original songs was not taken too literally; Burke and the band instead reinvented some lyrics that simply would not work in English, allowing some creative room without fumbling with their meaning.
Nearly 70 at the time of recording, Burke was in fine voice. Richness does indeed come with age, as he worked his way through these songs with passion and the audible years of experience. Truly, he is the star here. De Dijk’s vocalist Huub van der Lubbe is largely responsible for their ever-recognizable sound, but with Burke on board singing instead, the group puts their soul influence into overdrive, turning the music into something new, or rather perhaps showing how much soul was actually in them to begin with. In hindsight, the combination couldn’t have been more fitting. Not only does the man give a fresh twist to the more upbeat Dijk classics as Wat Een Vrouw
(What A Woman
) and Ik Kan Het Niet Alleen
(Gotta Be With You
), he even offers improvement on Hou Me Vast
(the title track), quite easily the highlight of this album.
Nobody could have seen it coming, but the combination of the King of Rock ‘N Soul and De Dijk turned out many winning moments. Hold on Tight
is an unusual, interesting and very successful collaboration, a final work befitting of Solomon Burke’s abilities. The man had a voice.