Thursday, June 12, 2008

Iron Man reviewed by Mark Thompson

Iron Man
Michael Burks
Alligator Records
12 tracks/60:22

For his third Alligator recording, guitarist Michael Burks hit the studio with his road band for the first time. After hundred's of gigs, who better to record with than the musicians who back Burks night after night on stages across the country. It was the right decision as Burks and the band tear through each song with an energy level that has been rarely seen since the days of the late Luther Allison. Band members include Wayne Sharp on piano and organ, Don Garrett on bass and Chuck "Popcorn" Louden on drums.
I got to experience Burks live several times during the January, 2007 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. One afternoon he was playing in the lounge on the upper deck. I can still picture him with his Flying V guitar strapped on, his shirt drenched with sweat that also poured off his face in a steady stream. Burks put his heart and soul into that performance, creating a memorable show that was one of the highlights of the cruise.
That same passion and spirit is present on his latest release. Burks is equally at home with blues, rock or soul. At times he sounds remarkably like one of his main influences, Albert King. On the opening track, "Love Disease," there are moments where Burks vocal makes you think that Albert has risen from the grave and joined Burks in the studio. "Strange Feeling" sports a heavy rock beat and some nasty slide guitar. Then Burks slows the tempo way down and turns in a masterful vocal on "Empty Promises" that simmers in the emotional wake of a love turned cold. that contrasts with his guitar break, which screams out it's anger at the betrayal.

The band lays down a driving funk groove on "Salty Tears," with Sharp kicking the arrangement into high gear with his Hammond organ fills. Burks turns loose his expressive voice once again, the pain and suffering evident in every syllable. "No More Crying" is another track that ventures close to Albert King territory. The band is cooking and Burks fires off plenty of razor-sharp guitar licks.

Another highlight is "Ashes in my Ashtray," a slow blues that burns with the emotional intensity that Burks is able to convey with both his gritty vocal and his fiery guitar playing. "Quiet Little Town" is anything but, as the band rocks this track harder than anything else on the disc. Sharp expertly establishes the proper mood on "Icepick Through My Heart." He squeezes thick chords out of the Hammond organ in support of yet another impassioned vocal from Burks. As good as Michael can sing, his guitar playing overshadows everything else once he cuts loose. I had high expectations for the band's cover of the Free classic "Fire and Water" but this ended up being the only track that disappointed. It never really seems to catch fire like the rest of the disc.

Or maybe I was just worn out by that point. Michael Burks is a high energy performer with plenty to offer. Alligator has managed to recreate the magic that the band creates on stage in the studio environment. It is hard to do but, as this recording clearly shows, that is the best way to enjoy and appreciate the talent of Michael Burks. Don't let this one slip by - it's too good to miss !!!

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