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August 2012

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Michael Burks
Show of Strength
Alligator Records

Michael Burks

I used to tease Michael Burks that he needed to record a disc called My Ass is on Fire, but in the end we both agreed that the title would probably not fly, even though it worked in the trilogy of things we were discussing at the time. News of Michael’s death shocked all of us in the Blues world. Watching the passing of fallen friends and Blues icons at this year’s Blues Music Awards during the In Memoriam section was especially painful, and I doubt there was a dry eye in the Cook Convention Center when Michael’s picture flashed on the screen. Thankfully, the Iron Man left us a brilliant album, Show of Strength, as a lasting reminder of the amazing artist he’d evolved into. So let’s give it the listen it deserves.

Michael’s guitar furnishes the introduction to our first cut on the disc, “Count on You.” Here we found Michael talking about a woman in his life that was at least predictable in her habits. “I can always count on you…to let me down!” This was a woman who didn’t stand by her man and never kept a promise, Michael definitely deserved better than this and at least knew what to expect. Next up is a slower paced ballad, “Take a Chance on Me, Baby.” Michael finds a woman he’s definitely interested in but she’s out with a man who isn’t treating her right. “I heard you had a fight…with your man last night…he just wasn’t treating you right…want to take a chance on you, baby…I want to take a chance on you, baby…want you to take a chance on me!” Michael’s willing to take it slow and show her what a good relationship is all about.

“Storm Warning” is Michael’s way of letting us know that his baby has left him and is ready to wreck havoc on the rest of us. “This is a warning…a storm warning…it took me by surprise…wrote me a letter…three pages long….I want to crawl inclement weather…she’s my…hurricane!” It definitely sounds like this is a good woman to stay away from.

After all of this we find Michael giving relationship advice in our next tune, “Can You Read Between the Lines?” Sometimes it’s hard to believe…what your mind doesn’t want to see…can you read between the lines…do you know the hate woman signs…say your woman is running around on you.” Michael definitely knows the warning signs and he’s happy to share them with his fellow man to avoid a relationship disaster like the train wreck he’s singing about.

A strong bass line from Terrence Grayson provides the introduction to our next cut, “Cross Eyed Woman.” “I’ve got a cross eyed woman…but she gives me such a thrill…don’t lie to that woman…or someone might be killed!” Sounds like she’s a handful but Michael is happy with her and that’s what matters most. Scott Dirks provides the harp intro to “Little Juke Joint,” as Michael tells us about this little place he knows and loves to party in. “And nobody ever goes home along….from that little juke joint…out on a dead end road.” It’s off the beaten path but that little juke joint is definitely the place to be!

Mournful tones emanate from Michael’s guitar as he tells us about the “24 Hour Blues.” His woman has left him and Michael feels the pain of her loss. “Loneliness keep hanging around…by the door…and I want a friend I can lose…every day it’s the same doggone thing…the 24 hour blues!” Michael is definitely in pain and he’s pining away by the phone, hoping for a call that will never come. We move on to the blistering “Valley of Tears,” as Michael warns everyone to tread lightly. His woman has left him for what she considers a better way of life and he’s definitely not a happy man. “It is raining…raining….drowning in a storm that never clears…I’m still lost in the Valley of Tears!”

Unfortunately, things don’t seem to be getting better for Michael and he lets us know that in “Since I Been Loving You.” “You said you loved me…and no one else could change your mind…I’ve heard all of your lies…make another fool on down the line…saw your number on my phone….picked up and nothing was said…all the shouting I heard…was you and him in bed!” Michael deserves better and it’s definitely time for this bitch to be let go.

“I Want to Get You Back”, a tune by Gary Nicholson and Tom Hambridge, finds Michael on the road to revenge. “I want to get to you…like you got to me…nobody ever did me like that…I want to get you back!” You can hear the anger in Michael’s guitar tones as he emphasizes the hatred he has for the woman in question who’s done him wrong. He keeps coming back to her in an attempt get even and it’s doubtful that ever happens. The shoe seems to be on the other foot in “What Does It Take to Please You?” as Michael is trying to figure out the new love in his life. “Took care of your sister…took care of her kids too….that’s not the end of my story…even took care of your mother too…what does it take to please you?” Michael is definitely working overtime to impress the object of his desire and it sounds like she’s never quite happy with anything he does. Good luck with this one, Michael.

The last tune on the disc, “Feel Like Going Home,” features a wonderful piano intro by Wayne Sharp, and finds Michael tired and wanting to go home. I find it a bit disconcerting in light of Michael’s passing, but comforting as well. The Iron Man was tired and it was just time to go home. “Lord, I feel like going home…I tried and I failed and I’m tired and weary…and everything I done was wrong…and I feel like going home!” You’re definitely home now, Michael, may you find peace in that.

Show of Strength shows Michael Burks at that point in his life where he was performing at the peak of his abilities. With Popcorn Louden, Wayne Sharp and Terrence Grayson backing him, Michael gives us the best of his guitar playing and his strongest recorded vocals to date in this wonderful disc on Alligator Records. Thank you “Iron Man” for all of the wonderful performances you given us over the years, the legendary cook-outs at the Biscuit and the millions of Blues fans you’ve inspired over the years. You are truly missed, my friend…truly missed by everyone.

--- Kyle Deibler


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