Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stuck in the Middle reviewed by Mark Thompson

Stuck in the Middle
Jimmy Burns
VelRone Records
13 tracks/54:25

This project marks several changes in the career of one of Chicago's finest blues singers. For starters, after four acclaimed recordings on Delmark Records, Jimmy Burns has opted to start his own record label and this is the inaugural release. He also decided to record songs that have appealed to him over the years. Burns found solace in the music of others after the death of his beloved wife, Dorothy, in 2010. The setlist reflects the broad scope of his musical interests as well as his talent for fashioning fresh interpretations of familiar songs.

That is readily apparent on the title cut as Burns turns the Stealer's Wheel classic into a surging, guitar-driven rocker with Burns' urgent vocal giving the song a harder edge. Ariyo Sumito Ariyoshi, on loan from Billy Branch & the Sons of the Blues, adds depth to the performance with some fine organ playing. John Hiatt's “Feels Like Rain” has been covered many times. Burns delivers a touching vocal over the solid rhythm established by E,G, McDaniel on bass and Bryant “T” Parker on drums. The band really tears into the Beatles “Get Back”, upping the tempo over a powerful beat as Burns wraps his soulful voice around the Lennon/McCartney lyrics. Even more dramatic is the reworking of Foreigner's hit “Cold as Ice” which Burns does solo on acoustic guitar, his voice soaring into the upper register as he warns that his woman will pay some day.

Burns takes on “Halo”, a Matt Powell tune from co-producer Dave Herrero's first album, his voice ringing out while Anthony “Tony” Palmer adds an exclamation point with a spirited guitar solo. Ariyoshi's pumping piano is a delight on “Cadillac”, a high energy rock & roll number that features Herrero on guitar. Things get scaled back on “Reach for the Sky”. Felix Reyes wrote the piece as a tribute to the late Sean Costello. Burns sings with simmering passion in memory of his wife, backed by Herrero on acoustic guitar and Parker on congas. Richard Hammersmith's “Incidental Lover” finds Burns at his finest, pouring his heart out over accompaniment that reaches the point where soul and rock intersect. The band stretches out on the instrumental, “Feelin' Kind of Bluesy”, with Burns on guitar. Ariyoshi lays down another scintillating solo on piano before Palmer's solo kicks things into overdrive.

This project is a departure from the blues-oriented originals Burns cut for Delmark. For some, there may not be enough straight-ahead blues songs to satisfy their tastes. For those willing to take a close listen, you will hear a talented band of veterans laying down energetic performances without any regards for musical styles. At the center is Jimmy Burns, lifting up his voice in celebration of music that has touched his soul. This one is well-worth a listen.

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