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Joe Burns Things Ain't What They Seem
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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Rockin' guitars have been all over us for years. Nearly every band has got a guitar - mostly electric, sometimes acoustic - so what's the big deal when another CD comes out with a guy playing guitar and singing rock and roll? When the guy is Joe Burns and the record is Things Ain't What They Seem (Things Ain't What They Seem), the big deal is here is a guy who plays hard rockin' riffs, blazing leads, and, on the mellow tunes, nice acoustic guitar. What's more, he writes songs that stay in rotation on the radio station in your mind. His songs are about many things, and they are straight expressions from the heart. Like true rock songs, you don't have to have the hipster, college rock references to understand them. No topical, clever irony here.

I find myself walking around singing words from the song "Lift Me Up" (Lift Me Up). People steal glances like I'm a bit nutty, but I don't care, it's a long subway ride. "Can you give me one reason, one reason to stay? / in a . . . vacuum, feels like I'm going insane / and what you're doing to me / there's not much more I can take / feels like it's open season / and I've been lead astray / Lift me up high lift high over the sun / make me stare / tell me not to run / lift me high over the sun every day."

Or the catchy chorus of "Things Ain't What They Seem" (Things Ain't What They Seem), the strong title track. "Yeah yeah somebody help me give me the right of way / yeah yeah lord won't you show me show me the light of day, won't you show me show me the he light of day."

Even though the song has verses that illustrate the hypocrisy and scams that are abundant in our world, the chorus pops into one's head at appropriate times, like trying to communicate with the girlfriend and failing and going through hell at work. It's clear that Joe Burns has been around and his rough edges don't come from dormitory food and book learnin'.

[Kirby] What is the earliest memory you have of noticing music?

[Joe Burns] I think that would have to be when I was very young - six or son - jumping around with my brothers and sisters - crazy kids with air guitars - listening to some old Foghat or someone like that cranked up to 10 on our parents' RCA console. That thing kicked butt.

Most music lovers and nearly all musicians started out discovering the magic of music through their parents' stereo. For this writer it was mom and dad's jazz and Motown soul records and, of course, Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff the Magic Dragon." For Mr. Burns it was the classic bands: Cream, Led Zepplin, Hendrix, The Beatles and Black Sabbath. Then later on in life, perhaps with the onslaught of puberty, his musical attention turned to AC/DC ,Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Pearl Jam and others. "I guess I need to hear great songs with the guitar up front," he says. "That is what makes the hair on my arms stand on end."

[Kirby] When did you start playing music?

[Joe Burns] I first started playing when I was 15 years old. A friend of mine gave me an old acoustic guitar with electric guitar strings on it and showed me the basic chords. After that I didn't see sunlight for quite a few years. I was hooked.

[Kirby] Did your parents encourage or discourage you from playing music?

[Joe Burns] My parents didn't do either. They definitely did not understand my obsession with it, and as long as I didn't hit them up for money for gear, we were cool.

[Kirby] What was your first band like?

[Joe Burns] My very first band was way back when I was in the Marines, with a few of the local musicians. We played all cover songs from Ozzy to U2. We got gigs at the clubs outside the Marine Corp base. We played real loud and they loved it when I played the Star Spangle Banner on the guitar.

[Kirby] What kind of music did you see when you were in the U.S.M.C.?

[Joe Burns] I would always check out the clubs outside of the base I was stationed at. They always had killer bands playing every Friday and Saturday night. Most of the bands played cover material and it amazed me at the time that there was so many great guitar players who took the time to learn all those guitar solos note for note. Since I have never had a formal guitar lesson, I would just watch and learn. It opened up my eyes to all of the possibilities of what could be done with the guitar.

[Kirby] What do you love about rock and roll?

[Joe Burns] I guess I love the energy and the dynamics, all the different influences you can hear from different artists. The fact that it is still around and ever evolving, it's like a living thing.

Joe Burn's rock is indeed alive. Heavily based in the blues roots of rock and roll, his songs have that perennial aspect that is found in the Rolling Stones' best songs, the work of Stevie Ray Vaughn, and the best old school rock ( Led Zepplin, Tom Petty, Johnny Winter), as well as newer groups that are eye and ear openers (The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Frank Black).

He has songs that, in a just world, or one with a record industry based on skill and merit like in days of yore, would be radio hits. They include anthems like "Things Ain't What They Seem," "Lift Me Up," and "Tokens of Treason" (Tokens of Treason). There are the great rock ballads "Leave This World Behind" (Leave This World Behind) and "South Bound Slowtrain" (Southbound Slowtrain), and soulful, show-'em-whatcha-got, medium rare rock and rollers, such as "Just Let Me Be" (Let Me Be) and "Change of Season." The anthems and especially "Change of Season" (Change of Season) are what people fantasize '70's rock sounded like.

[Kirby] Who are your main influences?

[Joe Burns] A musical influence in my world is not someone I sound like, but someone that when I listen to their music, it makes me want to play more and improve. A few vocal influences would be Ian Moore, Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, Jonny Lang, Joe Bonamasa, Warren Haynes, and Miles Kennedy. For the guitar it would be Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Albert King, Van Halen, Robin Trower, Frank Marino, Santana, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteem, and, of course, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Besides the overall sound on the record - the perfect balance between the bass and drums, Burns and Greg Morrow, respectively, and the vocals (slightly up front like at a good live show) - it is the guitar work that stands out. Mr. Burns has done his homework, and he reminds one that the music was so good back in the days of Motown, Muddy Waters and Cream, because people paid their dues, learned their craft, and had to really bring it every night on the road. That, in turn, was what they brought to the studio and their records.

Joe Burns blends dynamic leads and rock rhythm riffs with a tremolo guitar on "Tokens of Treason." His slide guitar on "South Bound Slowtrain" and "Just Let Me Be" is stellar and stands tall with Mick Taylor's work on "the Stones' Let It Bleed." His guitar leads shred as much as any chops miester, but always have soul and taste. They always fit the structure of the song, placed where the vocals need a breather or where words would fail to express the needed feeling.

[Kirby] What made you decide to leave NY and the East Coast and move to Texas?

[Joe Burns] I guess I was at a time in my life where I just needed a change, sometimes you have to uproot yourself and go somewhere you've never been, to grow as an artist. You can't be afraid of change.

[Kirby] What makes Texas different from the rest of the south and the west?

[Joe Burns] Texas is a very large state, with a lot of history. The people here are very diverse and have many different cultural backgrounds. The number of immigrants that came through Galveston exceeded the number in NYC years back. The people in Texas are proud to be Texans and you just don't find that everywhere.

[Kirby] The album title is Things Ain't What They Seem. It is also the title of a song. Is this the theme of the CD?

[Joe Burns] It is not the "theme" but it one of the stronger tracks. The topics for all the songs on this CD jump around a bit. I don't have the attention span to write about one subject for 14 or so songs. I did try to blend different textures and dynamics with the use of subtle effects, heavy guitars, and acoustic slide. I stepped up the lead guitar playing a bit (a little less blue and a little more speed) and I have been told the vocals really turned out much better this time. This CD has a new flavor compared to my first CD "Joe Burns - Road Runner" 2003.

Check out the flavor of Joe Burns' Things Ain't What They Seem and his website and get with this exciting new artist.

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