Writing a review of Michael "Iron Man" Burks' Show Of Strength should have been easy and a lot of fun. I tried hard to listen to these 12 songs without thinking about this being his final record but didn't get far with that not because the record feels like a funeral -- far from it -- but because it bursts with vitality and passion, honed with skill and craft. Burks completed all the recording work on the album and had only to approve a couple final mixes and sequence the record but he never got that opportunity. He passed away in the Atlanta airport earlier this spring on his way home from several gigs, gone too soon at the age of 54.
Show Of Strength is a powerful record and Burks is in top form throughout. There is an appealing gruffness in his vocals and his guitar work is stellar, combining tight, economical solos with longer excursions. The material is mostly strong, making for a consistent listen with a few highlights sprinkled along the way.
"Count On You" opens the record with one of those highlights. The title implies this might be a song about lasting love or friendship but you have to listen through to that next line "I can always count on you…to let me down." It's a strong tune and Burks reigns himself in yet gives plenty of energy in his vocal and guitar leads.
"Since I Been Loving You" is another highlight and this is one of the tracks where things stretch out without becoming tedious. He ups the intensity in his vocal and extends his guitar solos, scorching our ears without resorting to tedious shredding. "24 Hour Blues" and "Storm Warning" are also standout tracks, particularly the former. There is rarely a misstep on the record and they are easily overlooked in the context of such a fine record.
Show Of Strength is an excellent contemporary blues record on its own merits, one I'd gladly recommend to friends and fans of the genre. This wasn't supposed to be the final chapter of a blossoming career and it doesn't sound like one- nor does it sound like a new beginning. This is a fully realized album from a confident artist who'd come into his own. There should have been so much more; there won't be, and it's not fair.