Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Michael "Iron Man" Burks - Show of Strength - review

Few people could actually say they were born with the blues in their blood but Michael Burks was one of them. He was literally surrounded by the blues his entire life. His father was a bass player and his grandfather was an acoustic guitar delta blues musician. This lifelong involvement in the blues sure hasn’t done him any harm. ‘Show of Strength’ is Michael Burks’ fifth studio release and I feel his best.


‘Show of Strength’ is filled with guitar dominant blues backed by the basic line-up of drums, bass and keyboard. Michael recorded both the rhythm and lead guitars. This is the sound I expect from his label Alligator Records that has released albums from Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and Lonnie Mack. While Michael’s screaming guitar playing is what quickly attracted me to this album, I can’t help but appreciate his deep, raspy voice which is almost essential to blues from down south.


Burks opens the album with ‘Count On You’ with his voice sounding a little nervous and his guitar playing not quite as risky as I’d expect; however he still manages to turn it into a catchy number. It’s like a warm up for what is to come. When he breaks into the second track ‘Take a Chance on Me, Baby’, he seems to be warmed up just fine. There was noticeably more growl in his singing and more snap in his guitar. This song has everything that I’m looking for in the blues. A slow drum beat with heavy bass backing up solid guitar fills after every line Michael Burks snarls. The organ combined  with the keyboards faded in the background gives it a very full sound with minimal instruments. Michael approaches this song similar to how B. B. King would. No guitar while singing and following up with snazzy guitar riffs after each line that just blow you away.


Michael co-wrote ‘Take a Chance on Me, Baby” as well as four more of the twelve tracks on this album and these songs stood out as the best five on the album. He seems to be at an entire different comfort level playing songs he had a hand in writing. In all of these original songs he’s more opt of hitting the higher notes and also letting his great raspy growl out into the front where it belongs.


Michael keeps mixing things up in this album and never lets it get too repetitive. Whether it be him playing lead guitar along with his vocals (purple haze style) in the song ‘Cross eyed Woman” or simply adding the bluesy harmonica that fit so well in ‘Little Juke Joints’, I never got bored.


This album’s producing was shared between Michael Burks and Alligator owner Bruce Iglauer. Bruce is heavily involved the producing of most of the albums that have been coming from Alligator and his passion for perfection has only grown over the years. This album sounds great!


Unfortunately Michael died of a sudden heart attack between the end of recording this album and its release. What a sad end to a great album. Michael Burks really seemed at his prime while recording this and it’s sad that we will never know what else he had up his sleeve.

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