Michael Burks

As Muddy Waters might have put it, Michael Burks is one grown-ass man. A smoldering fire on the often bleak contemporary blues scene, what sets the third-generation bluesman apart is a deep, earthy tone in both his singing and his guitar playing. Equal parts Teddy Pendergrass and Freddie King, Burks has been practicing his soulful slant on the blues from an early age. He grew up in Milwaukee, which was where his bass-playing father (a sideman for both Sonny Boy Williamson II and Johnnie Taylor) instigated a unique musical homework system. Before leaving for work in the morning, the senior Burks would slap a 45 on the table and reward his son a dollar if he could learn to play it by the time he got home. Thus educated, and after moving to his ancestral home in Arkansas, Burks started his own band in the mid-1990s. He self-released From the Inside Out in 1997, and then in 2001 made his debut for Alligator, the fine Make It Rain. I Smell Smoke, his new record, is even better, as Burks's gutbucket style permeates tracks such as "One More Chance," "Miss Mercy," "I Hope He's Worth My Pain" and the beautiful "Lie to Me."

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