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I Smell Smoke

Michael Burks

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Album Review

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.

Biography

Born: 30 July 1957 in Milwaukee, WI

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Born in Milwaukee in 1957, blues guitarist Michael Burks began learning his instrument at an early age — inspired by his musical family (his father played bass and often performed alongside harmonica legend Sonny Boy Williamson II, while his grandfather was a Delta-style bluesman from Camden, Arkansas). By the age of five, he was playing along with his father, and picked up a thing or two from his parent's record collection — his father would often give his young son incentive to learn...
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I Smell Smoke, Michael Burks
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