Michael Burks

Show of Strength

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The sudden passing of 54-year-old guitarist Michael Burks in 2012, between the recording and release of this, his final album, casts an undeniable shadow over it. Burks was prepared to approve the final mixes and track order when he was struck by a fatal heart attack when arriving stateside after a European tour. It's a tragic and untimely end to a bluesman who was in his prime, as evidenced by the impassioned performance and superior songs on his fourth Alligator studio waxing. Burks' husky build was mirrored in his similarly styled vocals and meaty guitar tone, all of which are in full force throughout these dozen tracks. Like his previous disc, this features his road band whose keyboard player, Wayne Sharp, is a major component of Burks' soulful sound. From the funky bassline and sly lyrics of "Can You Read Between the Lines?" to the slide-guitar rock thump of "Cross Eyed Woman" (perhaps a nod to Free, whose music Burks has covered in the past) and the straight-ahead shuffle of "What Does It Take to Please You?," he navigates a lot of musical territory. Both covers and originals boast strong melodies, which Burks does justice to with tough vocals and full-bodied, often thunderous guitar solos from which his "ironman" nickname was derived. The closing version of Charlie Rich's classic gospel "Feel Like Going Home" ends this set on a somber note, made all the more melancholy by Burks' demise. The album's extended length is its only detriment (it would be more potent trimmed by a few tracks), but since there will be no more music from the guitarist, that criticism is mitigated by the unfortunate circumstances. Burks is truly at the top of his game here, which makes Show of Strength such a bittersweet finale from one of contemporary blues' most magnetic, powerful, and committed artists.

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