Stuck In The Middle is Jimmy Burns first studio album since 2003 and follows his excellent live set Live at B.L.U.E.S, released in 2007, which is when I was first introduced to him.
Burns says in the liner notes he has been reluctant to do covers on his records, believing his own material suits him best. Personal tragedy took a toll on him when his wife of 44 years passed away after battling lung cancer. The grieving process diminished his appetite for writing new material but he found himself reenergized by connecting with songs by other artists and so for the first time, he has made a record with only a few originals and several covers. Some of those are a bit obscure while others are more well-known. John Hiatt's "Feels Like Rain" has been a staple of Burns' live shows for awhile and most listeners will recognize the title cut "Stuck In The Middle," The Beatles' "Get Back," and Foreigner's "Cold As Ice."
Drawing from those different musical sources for material has resulted in an album with diverse-yet-cohesive album and satisfying listen. He opens the set with an outstanding performance of Matt Powell's "Halo," the first of two Powell tunes performed on this set. Burns' vocal howls with passion and his playing burns against the muscular backdrop of his rhythm section. It's a great song and Burns makes it his own.
The gritty, start-stop riff of the Burns co-written original "Won't Be Too Long" and the new instrumental "Feelin' Kinda Bluesy" sit well alongside those more famous songs and lesser known fare like "Incidental Lover."
Burns pays tribute to his late wife courtesy of Felix Reyes lovely "Reach For The Sky." Burns interpretational skill takes a song inspired by the passing of the late Sean Costello and makes it a lovely, intimate testament to love's enduring power.
Stuck In The Middle is a pleasant collection with no obvious weaknesses or weak moments. A contemporary blues hue shades these songs with rock edges or soul and doo wop underpinnings and Burns sounds comfortable and energized, demonstrating excellent instincts for finding songs that fit him or that can be rearranged in ways that play to his strengths.