Michael Burks' third release on Alligator Records, Iron Man, is as close to being a live album as you can get from a studio performance. This could be attributed to Burks using his seasoned road band on this date instead of the Memphis studio musicians used previously on Make It Rain and I Smell Smoke. Alongside Burks' searing Flying V strut, Wayne Sharp's greasy Hammond B-3 dominates this set, reveling in soul and rock influences, including a cover version of Free's "Fire and Water," a definite nod to the blues-rock audience Burks has gained over his 30-plus years on the road. While Iron Man is an overall inspired modern electric blues disc, a few missteps hamper the session. "Ashes in My Ashtray," penned by Chicago bluesman Jimmy Johnson, would have made a better instrumental in this particular case, as the lyrics get in the way of an intense Burks guitar performance.
Ian Ferguson alone held the key to the disaster that had overtaken a geological survey team more than two thousand miles away. What drove him now to make the perilous journey through the savage, lonely wastes of Labrador to the scene of the disaster? And what was the link between this and similar events which had taken place in that same tcrritory fifty years earlier?
John Hammond's latest album marks a major departure in one respect – for the first time in anyone's memory, he sings, but plays nothing on one of his records, while Little Charlie & the Nightcats, led by guitarist Charlie Baty, handle the guitars and everything else. The difference is very subtle, the playing maybe a little less flashy than Hammond's already restrained work – think of how good Muddy Waters sounded on the early-'60s records where he sang and didn't play. And that comparison is an apt one – even more than 35 years after he started, Hammond inevitably ends up sounding like its 1961 and he's working at Chess studios in Chicago, cutting songs between Muddy Waters sessions. Harpist Rick Estrin also contributes a smooth and eminently enjoyable original amid a brace of covers of blues standards. There is not a weak number here, and this band is a kick to listen to, sounding more naturally authentic than anybody in the 1990's has a right to (Baty's quiet pyrotechnics on "Lookin' for Trouble" would make this record worth owning, even if Hammond's singing and the rest of the songs weren't as good as they are).