Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Kevin Burt - Stone Crazy

On the cover of his latest album Stone Crazy, Kevin Burt is perched on the tail end of a pick-up truck, with an electric guitar in his hands.  So far, so typical of yer average modern-day bluesman.  Except that this doesn’t really tell the story of the Kevin Burt sound.
There are three things that caught my attention, listening to Stone Crazy.  One, there’s Burt’s voice, which is a resonant, molasses-rich instrument.  Two, there’s a ringing, acoustic-like quality to some of the rhythm guitar parts, and if that’s no longer a surprise when two minutes’ research reveals that our Kev is often to be found with an acoustic guitar in his mitts, it still brings a different dimension to the sound.  And three, on a few tracks his harmonica playing collides with some funky grooves to create a novel contrast.
Kevin Burt - ain't got no problems

This third trait is apparent on opening track ‘I Ain’t Got No Problem With It’, with bright harp licks over a shuffling beat from drummer Matt Johnson and choppy rhythm guitar – electric on this occasion, I reckon, but restrained – and Burt making good on the title with a laid back vocal showing off some good phrasing.  There’s less funk to ‘Rain Keeps Coming Down’, but here Burt’s harp and some vocal testifyin’ are played off against an acoustic guitar riff, darting and dodging bass from Doug Byrkit, and subtle slide which I take to be the work of Mike Zito, who sat in the producer’s chair as well as contributing guitar parts.  ‘Should Never Have Left Me Alone’ is a less distinctive song, but there’s still a chirpy harp solo to go with Johnson’s skipping drums, with Lewis Stephens adding some piano flourishes from variety.
That ringing acoustic sound rolls along over a snappy beat on ‘Purdy Lil Thang’, creating an appealing, catchy groove over which Zito lays some intriguing, off kilter guitar licks, while Burt casts an admiring, aspiring eye over the pocket rocket of the title in relaxed fashion.  Stephens is back on ‘I’m Busting Out’, adding waves and twitches of organ to the brisk, shuffling drums and stuttering funk guitar, while Burt gives his vocal some more urgency and grit in between a couple of pinging lead guitar solos.  And Jimmy Carpenter puts in an appearance on ‘You Get What You See’, seasoning a smoothed-out ‘Shakin’ All Over’-style riff with staccato sax, before jostling with the guitar for the spotlight towards the end.
But the best couple of tracks are ‘Something Special About You’ and the closing ‘Got To Make A Change’.  The first, with its spare arrangement focused on acoustic guitar and subtle organ, is more effectively Bill Withers-ish than the later, rather mundane cover of Withers’ ‘Better Off Dead’.  For me it also makes way better use of the soulful quality of his voice than the syrupy, Commodores-lite title track – though if you like that sort of thing you won’t complain about his delivery.  ‘Got To Make A Change’, meanwhile, is a solemn meditation on the state of the world and personal responsibility, featuring some shivering, tremulous guitar work – Zito again, I’m thinking – while Burt winds himself up to some more gospel-ish testifying to deliver a strong ending to the album.
Stone Crazy would benefit from a couple of stronger songs to maintain a consistent standard.  But it’s still an album to bring a smile to your face, showing off Kevin Burt’s undoubted strengths – his harp playing, acoustic guitar, and that expressive voice - to good effect.  There is indeed more to him than the common-or-garden guitar-toting blues dude suggested by the cover.

Stone Crazy is out now on Gulf Coast Records.

No comments:

Post a Comment