Once Michael Burks' returned to his musical career in 1994 it was only a
matter of time before things started to blossom. The labels were slow to
step in, even after he produced his own critically acclaimed debut CD
("From The Inside Out") in 1997. Even so, it was only after he returned to
music full time that Alligator snapped him up, and put out his sophomore
CD, "Make It Rain," in 2001, which also scored highly with the critics.
Burks' latest album for the label, "I Smell Smoke," should help to keep the
The album picks up where "Make It Rain" left off, with "All Your Affection
Is Gone." In other words, hard edged blues (rather then blues-rock) led by
Burks' excellent guitar and soulful vocals. Recurring comparisons that
spring to mind are Luther Allison and Sherman Robertson, and in places
Burks' employs the same guitar sound that was the trademark of Albert King.
The first original, "Time I Came In Out Of The Rain," does not arrive until
track four. The title that makes it sound like a riposte to Burks' previous
album. It is a slower number, with a very simple tune, where Burks let the
rest of the band do most of the work, but provides plenty of fills, teasing
the listener into expecting another blistering solo, but never actually
launching into one until the track starts to fade. After the uptempo
interlude of "Hard Love," comes the bump and grind of "Miss Mercy," the
The final original track comes in the shape of "I Hope He's Worth My Pain."
Based on the evidence here, Burks seems most at home when things are a
little slower. He keeps his powder dry to let rip on the solos, as he
wrings the emotion out of every note. Just to show that there is yet
another side to Burks, he closes things out with a cracking version of
"Snake Eggs." The band gets stripped right back to just Burks on the
suitably mean and dirty guitar, accompanied by Billy Gibbons on
appropriately muddy harp. The sound is very raw and earthy, calling to mind
Big Jack Johnson, and the Jelly Roll Kings.
"I Smell Smoke" maintains the standards set by Michael Burks' previous
albums. Burks' reputation as one of the best guitarists currently on the
prowl. In places the album is perhaps a bit over-produced, maybe trying a
little too hard to give the sound the same edge that was prevalent in the
recordings of Luther Allison. Fans of Sherman Robertson will also find much
here to admire, and anyone who likes their blues guitar hot and spicy is
unlikely to be disappointed.
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