Michael “Iron Man” Burks – Show Of Strength

Posted on: Thursday, Sep 6, 2012


Michael “Iron Man” Burks – Show Of Strength

(Alligator Records: ALCD 4951)

It’s fair to say the sudden death of Michael Burks earlier this year shocked the worldwide blues fraternity to the core. The words of Alligator label boss Bruce Iglauer are very poignant: “It’s almost impossible to believe that this will be the last album from Michael Burks, the Iron Man of the blues. The final mixes had just been completed while he was on a European tour, and they were waiting for him at his home. He never got a chance to hear them; this gentle giant died suddenly of heart failure on 6th May, 2012, at the age of 54.”

In the true spirit of Alligator Records the album has been left as it was intended, and now serves “as a living, breathing statement from Michael’s heart and soul”, admirable sentiments indeed rather than a memorial to this fine fallen musician. “Show Of Strength” is the fourth album on Alligator, and now obviously the last, but as ever Burks trademark soulful vocals and roaring guitar work stand out, with the 12 tracks on offer a mix of his usual intensity, with some rock leanings, together with some funk and soul grooves, and of course, some fine blues.

Accompanying Michael Burks are the excellent band of Wayne Sharp (keyboard and backing vocals), Terence Grayson (bass and backing vocals) and Chuck ‘Popcorn’ Louden (drums and backing vocals) – with guest keyboard player Roosevelt Purifoy and a harmonica cameo from Scott Dirks. As ever the release was co-produced by Burks and Bruce Iglauer, the same duo who had worked together since Michael Burks signed for the label a decade ago.

The opening “Count On You” fairly races out of the blocks with some snarling guitar and punchy bassline from Terence Grayson, with Michael Burks lovely smooth vocals on top; the soulful blues of “Take A Chance On Me, Baby” is equally strong, with the pace being taken up on the strutting rocker “Storm Warning”, complete with more intense guitar work from Burks and underpinned by Wayne Sharp’s organ playing.

His own “Cross Eyed Woman” rolls with a Hendrix-like vibe – his vocals echoing the guitar lines through an unhurried six minutes plus; the afore-mentioned Scott Dirks harmonica gives “Little Juke Joint” the necessary ‘lowdown’ feel of the songs title; the much-recorded classic “24 Hour Blues” – notably by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland – is a tour-de-force here, with Burks passionate ‘from the heart’ vocal and blistering guitar, but also with the band all working beautifully.

“Valley Of Tears” is another driving blues, with the rhythm section of Terence Grayson and Chuck ‘Popcorn’ Louden pushing things along; the epic “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is another standout – a slow blues with another of Michael Burks trademark vocal performances. The great shuffle of “What Does It Take To Please You?” swings like crazy, with Wayne Sharp’s piano playing taking the honours here with Burks incendiary guitar.

This fine album ends on a high with the deeply moving performance of Charlie Rich’s “Feel Like Going Home” – which Iglauer notes that Burks claimed this to be one of his best ever performances and deepest songs he had ever recorded, and indeed his sudden passing gives it even more significance. A highly recommended release from start to finish and RIP Michael “Iron Man” Burks . . . . the big man from Camden, Arkansas.





Pics by Paul Natkin


Pete Evans

September 6th, 2012 at 19:55
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A brilliant cd from a lovely man – he’ll be much missed and the King Biscuit will be a sad place this year