Monday, January 21, 2013

Michael Burks -- "Show Of Strength"

The coldest day of this new year, Martin Luther King Jr day, January 21--even though MLK Jr's birthday was last Tuesday January 15. The President was inaugurated yesterday, even though he will reproduce that effort today and give a speech. I am drawing abundant warmth and sustenance from a great LP my sister Teri gave me for Christmas--Marshall Tucker Band's "Greatest Hits." (1978 Capricorn Records) Actually she gave me a box of records that once belonged to Aunt Loretta. After Aunt Loretta died about a year ago at a great old age, Teri thought I would want her records. I did, and I was shocked to find the Marshall Tucker Band in the box next to The Longines Symphonette Society. Wow what a great band Marshall Tucker Band was! Thanks Teri. And thanks Aunt Loretta.

But I digress only briefly--this is supposed to be a review of Michael Burks' "Show Of Strength." This cd was his 4th for Alligator Records, following "Iron Man (2008)," "I Smell Smoke (2003)," and "Make It Rain (2001)." The final mixes were complete and at his home waiting for final approval when he died of a heart attack at the airport in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 6, 2012. While his death was a great loss to the blues world, this is a terrific record. Burks' abilities as a songwriter, singer and guitar player were all in fine condition when recording these songs. The band was Burks on Guitars and Vocals, Wayne Sharp on Organ, Piano and Background Vocals, Terrence Grayson on Bass and Background Vocals, Chuck 'Popcorn' Louden on Drums and Background Vocals. Also guesting on this set were Roosevelt Purifoy on Keyboards on "Feel Like Going Home," additional keyboards on "24 Hour Blues" and "Take A Chance On Me, Baby" and Scott Dirks on Harmonica on "Little Juke Joint." The singing and playing is full and deep--throughout, this is the best work of Burks' career.  Special cudos for "Storm Warning," a crackling good song with great guitar and singing by Burks and wonderful backing by the band. "Little Juke Joint" is Michael telling his own story--raised in his father's club, The Bradley Ferry Country Club in Camden Arkansas. My favorite song is "Feel Like Going Home," which features heartfelt lyrics and a piano/organ backing that would sound right at home in church, and a tasteful, emotional guitar solo.

A lot of blues artists whose work I love have passed away--many of them far too soon. I took a long time to grieve Michael Burks' passing before I wrote this review. I will miss him, and the music he never got a chance to make, the stages where his fans never got to hear him play. But it is a comfort that we have this last cd, and his music does live on. RIP my friend.    

I'm going to let Bruce Iglauer have the final word:
"It was my decision to leave this album as we intended it, not as a memorial to a friend and bluesman gone, but as a living, breathing statement, sent straight from Michael's heart and soul. Although Michael is not here, the music he recorded is indeed his show of his immense strength and spirit. It will live on, confirming forever his status as one of the greatest bluesmen of his generation."

You can buy this cd at

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