Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
JIMMY BURNS BAND
Stuck in the Middle
By Leslie Keros
Musicians, like the rest of us mortals, can sometimes become prisoners of their own success, feeling as though they can only do one thing well. But as Jimmy Burns proves on his new album, that ain’t necessarily so.
Given his varied background in gospel, soul, folk, and top 40, it’s a wonder that Jimmy’s previous recordings have hewn so closely to the Chicago blues tradition. Jimmy has four Delmark releases under his belt, mostly featuring his own compositions. On Stuck in the Middle, his self-produced effort, he is clearly comfortable performing songs composed by others—and succeeding remarkably well in making their music his own.
Named after the Stealers Wheel hit from the ‘70s, Stuck in the Middle offers up a fascinating amalgam of rockabilly, blues, and soul, revealing the breadth of Jimmy’s taste and the buoyant freedom of his artistry. This is an album that bears up well after repeated listening.
By the third song, “Cadillac,” Jimmy really finds his groove. This barnstormer is one of his most rocking tracks, featuring tasteful guitar from co-producer Dave Herrero, Jerry Lee Lewis–inspired piano from Ariyo Sumito Ariyoshi, and the relentless rhythm section of bassist Greg McDaniel and drummer Bryant Parker. Jimmy’s rendition of The Beatles classic “Get Back” is a whole lot of good-time rock ‘n’ roll fun, seasoned by ad hoc lyrics at the end (“This is JB talkin’ to you, mama”).
On “Feelin’ Kinda Bluesy,” one of the two original compositions on the album, Jimmy leads off the proceedings on guitar, followed by a lively solo by keyboardist Ariyoshi (who can be regularly seen playing with Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues) and a blazing statement by guitarist Anthony Palmer; this song features some of the best drumming on the album, with some very deft work from Parker.
On slower numbers, such as John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain,” the band succeeds in keeping the music poetic: Jimmy’s voice is alternately quiet and soaring, the guitars sympathetic, the percussion always interesting. “How Close (Is Your Love)” shows off the soulful quality of Jimmy’s vocals; the song has an R&B feel, particularly with the backup vocals, yet the instrumental treatment behind Jimmy renders this version fresh and contemporary.
The most poignant song on the album, “Reach for the Sky,” was written by one of Herrero’s bandmates, Felix Reyes, as an ode to his late friend and protégé, Sean Costello. Jimmy dedicates the song to his wife, Dorothy, who succumbed to cancer in 2010. The pathos and earnestness of Jimmy’s vocals are set off exquisitely by the rhythmically tight accompaniment of Herrero on acoustic guitar and Parker on congas.
Concluding the CD is an imaginative cover of “Cold as Ice”— yes, the Foreigner song, here featuring just Jimmy and the guitar. Somehow this stark combination is more convincing than the original. It’s definitely the album’s guilty pleasure.
Throughout the CD, Jimmy sounds confident, relaxed, and happy, as though this is the album he’s been waiting his whole life to record. On this recording Jimmy is his own man, playing what he likes and playing it well.
To purchase Stuck in the Middle, visit CD Baby
For more info on Jimmy Burns: www.jimmyburnsband.com
Listen to Jimmy Burns discuss his new CD with CBG's interviewer Jennifer Noble on YouTube. Click on the photo of Jimmy and Jenn.