Jimmy Burns comes from a musical family, and is of a generation that includes Little Milton Campbell and Junior Parker (a major harmonica player), who gravitated into playing a music more generalized than plain blues, slouching over the boundary into pop with an R&B cum secularized gospel accent. For a time Burns made a living performing and recording that stuff, at least at a not-unimportant local level; until the balance between income and outgoings prescribed a day job.
Then—as has frequently happened with jazzmen who’ve worked nine to five in recording studios providing subsistence in the shadow of the famous and overpaid—a time came when he had more time to perform his own music. I caught up with him on his previous CD, an efficient exercise in leading a Chicago blues band, and in various respects the new one is better, drawn from a live performance also issued on DVD with added interview (the trailer accessible on-line is so generous, I’m not sure I need to say much more).
Still, it’s nice as well as interesting to hear the plain continuity carried through this CD, from guitar duo music JB might have heard as a boy in Mississippi, to the verge of mellow R&B—here with ideal support from bass guitarist and drummer.
The repertoire on the CD shades over and through the full range of music Jimmy Burns has made, from blues to R&B pop
(though there’s not an enormous amount of the latter), some of it gentling-down tracks that would otherwise be more like hard blues.
The string duo with rhythm line-up, whatever else it sounds like, produces a very nice and musical noise by any standard, with nothing hackneyed about it. Some people might well not have heard anything like it, or anything integrating more recent practices into something which goes right back.
“Miss Annie Lou” and Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold out Much Longer” are unsurprisingly uncompromising blues, without the occasional R&B / pop accent or passage of harmonic sophistication liable to jar just a little with blues buffs; but as well as performing a number entitled “Better Know What You’re Doing”, Burns and his fellow guitarist Tony Palmer know what they’re doing.
“Whole Lot of Lovin’”, somehow credited to King / Bihari, is built on a stock Elmore James frame and none the worse for having no slide guitar. Burns and Palmer continue to interact beautifully, creatively and not repetitively, Palmer getting to churn in lively style on the more (literally rather than spiritually) electrified of the two guitars. Burns has a sound nearer to amplified acoustic.
Jesse Fortune steps onstage for a “Three O’Clock Blues”, which opens in more King style with Burns’ expert rhythm guitar behind Palmer’s linear work. Fortune is a Buddy Guy sort of singer, and while Guy is another member of Burns’ generation the historical influences differed. Guy stayed within the harmonic and rhythmic conventions of blues, with only a wilder, somewhat more gospel-influenced vocal delivery; Jimmy Burns, while trying other things elsewhere, has a perfected laid back delivery, which can lean forward appropriately as heat and tension build.
The rural guitar duo sound is especially apt to what the words of “Country Boy in the City” are about, with some stinging solo guitar work almost redeeming a number I’ve never liked that much. “Wild About You, Baby” goes back to an Elmore James template, this time composer-credited to James, featuring some nice socking bass and drums, with Palmer’s amazing stinging guitar intensifying it to a blues highlight.
Burns is an assured player and this CD might well appeal beyond a blues and R&B audience. I have already used the word mellow, consider it repeated.