Kevin Burt – Heartland & Soul
Once Kevin Burt took over the stage for his set during the final round of the International Blues Challenge, held in Memphis in January and sponsored by the Blues Foundation, it became apparent in short order that he would get strong consideration for the top slot. When the judges decision was finally announced, Burt was indeed finish as the top scoring act in the Solo/Duo category. Adding to that recognition, Burt also was awarded the Lee Oskar Harmonica Player and the Cigar Box Guitar awards, the first time any performer had swept those three awards.
After spending years playing solo shows in clubs and restaurants as often as six nights a week to support his family through his music career, the singer now had the recognition needed to move his career in new directions. As he stated in an interview with Blues Blast earlier this year, “I have the opportunity to step into the room, and I want to prove that I deserve a seat at the table. I want to earn that. There are plans to get into the studio and create a product that is release-worthy. In the past, I have invested in my family rather than the studio time. Now I have to make that investment. Maybe I should have done that 6-8 months ago. The songs are there, so we need to line up a studio and possibly a producer. I have never been considered a recording artist. I am a performing artist. Typically, I have been doing over 300 shows a year, with the record being 420 in one calendar year. With a wife and two kids, if I am not playing, I am unemployed. That it is not OK. My family is behind me 100%, as are the righteous souls in the world who have been there for me over the years. I look forward to the opportunities, whatever they end up being”.
With his new release, Burt leaves no doubt that he has successfully made the transition to recording artist. His striking voice immediately commands your attention from the opening notes of “Day Day,” one of eleven original compositions on the disc. Recorded at the notable Greaseland Studio, co-producers Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh surround the singer with just the right amount of instrumental and vocal support, making sure that the focus never sways from Burt’s expressive voice. Andersen also plays guitar while Pugh handles all of the keyboard parts. The legendary bass player Jerry Jemmott forms a formidable rhythm section with drummer Derrick “D’Mar” Martin and Jon Otis, son of Johnny Otis, on percussion. Lisa Leuschner Andersen handles the backing vocals.
“Real Love” gives listeners some samples of Burt’s talent on the harmonica, which he typically plays mounted on a rack, leaving him free to play his acoustic guitar, which is prominently featured on the lone cover on the recording. Burt stunned the audience in Memphis with his interpretation of the Lennon & McCartney classic, “Eleanor Rigby”. On the recorded version, his voice cries out with growing intensity, pleading for each of us to recognize the shared humanity in all of the troubled souls we encounter each and every day. On some tracks, his tone and phrasing reminds listeners of one of Burt’s influences, singer Bill Withers. “I’ve Been Watching You” is a vigorous declaration a man intently focused on a love interest while “Thank You” is a soothing ballad that allows Burt to reflect on life, freedom, and family.
Picking out some blues licks on his guitar, Burt gives a passionate recounting of being left alone with a worried mind on “I Don’t Want To See You No More”. Another ballad, “Your Smile,” is a touching ballad for the singer’s children. “Smack Dab In Te Middle” starts out with some harp and slide on a resonator guitar, but after one verse, the band slides into a syncopated rhythm, with Burt’s spirited harp blowing providing a suitable contrast for his mournful vocal. The slow blues,”Never,” is another standout track, Burt’s passion steadily rising with each note, drawing listeners into the emotional core of his artistry. The disc closes with Burt playing harp and guitar on “Wake Up, Baby,” a driving, solo acoustic tune centered on the back door man theme.
Under the expert guidance of Andersen and Pugh, Kevin Burt now has a recording that makes it eloquently clear that the judges at the IBC got it right. All of the years of hard work have come to fruition, as he bares his soul time and again, making this one worth many a listen!
View the interview with Kevin Burt here: