Monday, August 13, 2012

Michael Burks' Final Album - Show Of Strength

If the celebration of the new Alligator release by Michael ‘Iron Man’ Burks, Show of Strength, is subdued, it is not because of any fault of the music but rather that this is his final studio album as he died suddenly of a heart attack on May 6, 2012, as he was returning from performances in Europe. This album had been finished before his passing and Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer has said the only thing that had not been finished when Burks had passed was the sequencing of the songs. He is backed by his band with Wayne Sharp on keyboards, Terrence Grayson on bass and Chuck ‘Popcorn Loudon on drums, with appearances by Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards and Scott Dirks on harmonica.

Michael Burks at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock
There is plenty of fire in his muscular guitar through that contrasts with the more deliberate and mellow vocals. Burks’ approach might be viewed an extension of the legendary Albert King in his recognition that what one does not play can be expressive just like hot bursts of single note runs. The material is quite strong opening with the irony of the opening Count On You, where he tells his lady that he can always count on her to let him down. Take a Chance On Me, Baby has a melody recalling Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s I Wanna Ta-Ta You. There is a hook on Can You Read Between The Lines, as Burks lists the warning signs one’s woman has been running around, such as "when you kiss her she acts like you tried to bite her," or "when she comes home, her clothes all out of place."

On an appealing shuffle, Little Juke Joint, Burks celebrates the small jukes he honed his performing skills. The slow blues, Since I Been Loving You, has Burks singing another lament about his woman’s lies and how he is about to lose his mind. His guitar nicely accents his heartfelt singing here. A change of pace is provided on What Does It Takes To Please You. This performance evokes classic fifties and sixties B.B. King as the rhythm section swings hard. Sharp's piano is particularly outstanding on this.

Michael Burks from August 21, 2009 at the State Theatre in Falls Church VA. Photo © Ron Weinstock
There is some southern soul feeling (with a bit of church in Sharp’s piano) on the terrific rendition of Charlie Rich’s Feel Like Going Home that concludes this album. The warmth and expressiveness of Burks singing sets him apart from most guitar slingers. This track perhaps best displays how strong a singer he is, but Burks' vocals throughout are first-rate.  Show of Strength is a superb recording that unfortunately is Michael Burks final musical statement.

My review copy was provided by Alligator Records. Show of Strength is scheduled for release on August 21, a week from when this is blog entry is posted.. You can pre-order from various outlets including Alligator Records itself, I conclude this post with a video of Michael Burks performing in Denmark.

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