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Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008

The Jonathan Burks Band Honky-Tonks, Drunkenly

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Jonathan Burks says his songs are mostly about Milwaukee's drinking culture. It's a subject that pervades his material, evoking both good times with your drinking buddies and introspective moments of clarity. On the song "20 Dollar Bill," Burks celebrates taking full advantage of $1 beer specials, while "Brew City Blues" describes Burks' difficulty with staying out of the many bars between his day job and his home. "Drink My Mind" tells of going to the bar to mend a broken heart.

Burks bought his first cheapie guitar as a preteen and quickly set to work learning "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. He formed his first band in high school, a "stoner rock" group called See Spot Groove; when he moved from his hometown of Racine to attend UW-Milwaukee, he began playing open-mic nights and other gigs.

In 2001, Burks embarked on a mini-tour with his guitar, an Amtrak rail pass and a zine that listed contacts for booking shows. The tour was a typical do-it-yourself adventure. He played at a sandwich shop in Minneapolis for two homeless buskers. He got off the train, drunk, in Portland, Ore., and was met by a show promoter who for unknown reasons was wearing clown makeup. He played a youth center in a suburb of San Francisco, and the next day did a gig at an art gallery in Oakland, Calif.

Burks had a hard time tapping into the punk-rock basement scene, though. His honky-tonking didn't meet their hardcore expectations, and the experiences led to him write the song "Take This Genre and Shove It."

He describes his current sound as "shit-kicking, dirty country, drinking songs." The band combines country, folk and punk influences, with a lot of tunes that are easy to swing a glass and sing along to. His band, which includes Joe Pescio and Luther Paul of acoustic folk band Wooden Robot, "Dr. Nick" Westfahl of Bangkok Taxi Pimps and "Oil Can" Dan Boyle of China Pig, was assembled just a few days before the 2007 Locust Street Festival. Things fell together quickly and now the group follows a casual "jam when we can" attitude. Burks has written a lot of material that the band is still working through, and he hopes this will be recorded as a second album.

In the meantime, Burks' first album with the band, Brown Paper Bag, arrives Dec. 5 with a release party at the Y-Not III, which Burks cites as one of his favorite venues to play.

"The last time we played there, there was a lot of hootin' and hollerin'," Burks says. "People were getting down and having a great time. It wasn't the same scenesters just standing there, nodding their heads."

The album release show forBrown Paper Bag is Dec. 5 at the Y-Not III with the Jonathan Burks Band and DJ Missy Donkerz.

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