Michael Burks

I Smell Smoke

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    8
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A continuation of the sound established on his Alligator debut, I Smell Smoke is even more impressive than its much-heralded predecessor. While vocally Michael Burks still invites comparison to Albert King, especially on gospel-fried ballads like "Lie to Me" (the Flying V guitar he sports on this album's cover shot further reinforces the similarities between the two artists), his guitar work has become more electrified and confident. With a tone sounding at times like Eric Clapton's psychedelic work in Cream and a rugged four-piece band supporting him, this is a tough, uncompromising contemporary blues/blues-rock/R&B album that doesn't pull punches. Co-produced and mixed by veteran Jim Gaines, the sound is professional but not polished, with Burks' strong persona commanding attention. However, the songs -- which are far above average -- are as important as the performance. Mostly written by outside sources, Burks avoids the crowd-pleasing covers that populate his live shows, instead digging into obscure tunes such as Latimore's "Let the Doorknob Hit You," delivering them with his gutsy punch. His playing often takes on a Buddy Guy-styled intensity, with leads that reach out of the speakers, wrapping around and reeling you in. Even the slow blues tracks are played full-bore, but the closing "Snake Eggs," with just guitar and Billy Gibson's fiery, overdriven Little Walter-styled harmonica, shows that Michael Burks doesn't need help to create all the smoke he wants.

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