Solomon Burke sounds slightly bored with the genteel material that producer Steve Jordan has rounded up for Like a Fire, and despite a shuffling blues ready-made and a (perhaps unintentionally) comic country waltz, the record just lies there. Like what, you ask? All right, like an elephant on a yacht-rock yacht—the opener and title track is tasty indeed, and written by Eric Clapton. It’s got a severely inevitable chord progression, guitar by old L.A. pros Danny Kortchmar and Dean Parks, and words Burke can sing: “Why can’t I feel/What I want to feel?” It’s quite pleasant, but no match for Toto or the Doobie Brothers—forget Stax or Steely Dan.
“We Don’t Need It” finds Burke jobless and surrounded by his loving family—his son rakes leaves for spare change and gives Dad every penny. With songwriter Ben Harper in tow, “A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray” kicks in with Harper’s Dobro and gets smoothed out during the bridge. Jesse Harris’s “You and Me” is an uncanny Hi Records rip, right down to Jordan’s simulation of drummer Howard Grimes. Burke gives such lyrics as “Don’t you think it’s silly if I go/’Cause you’re gonna miss me” exactly the readings they deserve.
That’s what dismal fun there is on Like a Fire. Back on 2005’s Don Was–produced Make Do With What You Got, Burke grappled with Robbie Robertson’s “It Makes No Difference” and could barely enunciate the song’s arty couplet about stampeding cattle rattling the walls. The next year’s Nashville put him up at producer Buddy Miller’s house, where he sounded both excited and hemmed in by the brilliant velocity that Miller conjured for the project. Seems strange to say, but that record’s air of constraint suits Burke better than Like a Fire‘s plush pieties.