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The Sound

Randy Burk: heart and soul of small-town Iowa


Randy Burk and the Prisoners play Valley Junction’s “Music in the Junction” on Thursday, June 20.

Randy Burk and the Prisoners play Valley Junction’s “Music in the Junction” on Thursday, June 20.

When talking to Randy Burk, it’s impossible not to be struck by his workmanlike demeanor. A plain-spoken man, Burk’s music is a reflection of where he’s come from. You can hear his Atlantic, Iowa, roots in every track, and Burk wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I write songs about relationships and love,” Burk said in a phone interview. “But I like to write about work. I’m the son of a construction worker. I’ve got a lot of blue collar in me.”

Burk, 40, has been playing music with one band or another for half his life. It was at the turn of the last century that the idea for The Prisoners really took hold.

“I was living in Missouri but doing shows in Iowa,” he recalled. “I hired (keyboardist) Jared Hall to play some shows, and we became very close friends. We kind of liked the same music, and there was a connection artistically. We were driving to one of the shows and started talking about starting a band together, and it just evolved from there.”

Hall would eventually move on to freelance projects with the Des Moines Symphony and a couple of bands in Texas, but Randy Burk and The Prisoners was off and running. The current lineup consists of bassist Brian Duffey, guitarist Brad Rieks and drummer Jimmy Stevens. After kicking out an EP in the early ’00s, Burk released his first CD in 2005. The ensuing eight years have seen the band tinker with its sound a little and keep up a break-neck concert pace, averaging 200 shows a year. Now, this past April, the group released its second CD, “Money, Heart and Soul.”

“I’ve got a lot of good feedback,” Burk said, speaking of the album’s reception. “Folks really seem to like it, and I’m happy with it. We did a Des Moines release (at Gas Lamp in April), and I did one in my hometown of Atlantic. We’re kind of rolling it out, so we’re going to do one in Kansas City and Springfield over the summer.”

The deliberate pace between albums is a reflection of Burk’s writing style. Writing as he does, so intimately from his own experiences, he’s never been much of a collaborator.

“There’s been some songs where a buddy will say, ‘You might change this word,’ but all the songs I release I really write alone,” he said. “All these songs are very personal. They’re all real events from my life and very personal experience. Rarely do I like to make up a story or come up with something.”

But, as anyone who writes extensively will understand, it’s not a process that can necessarily be rushed.

“I can write three or four songs in a week, then I can go three or four months without thinking about anything,” he said. “Obviously I’m not with a label that’s like, ‘We need 10 songs by the end of the month,’ but I think that if I were I’m not sure I’d be able to (do that). That’s just not how I write.”

For now, Burk is content to enjoying the fruits of his most recent labor. “Money, Heart and Soul” is a simple, reflective album that connects with listeners exactly because of the unhurried honesty of Burk’s writing. It is a method and a sound that Burk thinks can resonate.

“We’re still getting it up on iTunes, which should be done in the next couple weeks, and getting it submitted for Sirius radio, and then I think we’ll shop it around and see if we can get some interest from a label,” he said. CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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