Friday, April 1, 2011
The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Back in May 2008 (dang, has it been that long) I posted a gushing review of the first T-Birds' gig that I witnessed with the newest lineup of Mike Keller and Johnny Moeller slinging guitars, and Jay Moeller and Randy Bermudes driving the rhythm on bass and drums (respectively). Word from Kim Wilson that night was that they would have a release out with these guys in the fall and I couldn't wait to get a copy of what I felt just might be the best band that Wilson had put together since he and Jimmy Vaughn parted ways. I regularly checked my usual online sites for obtaining blues music (even iTunes) and time passed by with no T-Bird fix. Painted On was available everywhere, but no new news.
Long story short, the new CD appears to have been sitting on their website for some time and that's one place that I sort of quit checking after awhile. Like Kim Wilson's My Blues, it seems that website distribution and gig sales was the chosen method to get the CD out there (or in my case, here). So, of course, I grabbed my autographed copy and must say that it'll go into my file as one of my favorite T-Birds albums. It definitely sports some of the funkiest grooves to ever come out of a T-Birds' band. Of course, if you have any of Johnny Moeller's stuff (case in point, Return of the Funky Worm), then you know he can get funky, but this being a Fabulous Thunderbirds' release, then you know that it'll stay true to Kim Wilson's orchestration and his vision on what their sound must be. Which is a jivin' mix of the blues, R&B, soul and a bit of rock 'n roll.
Might as well start with the tracks on which Wilson blesses us with his mouth harp skills, since a few blues harp fans tap into the blog on a frequent basis. True to most of The Fabulous Thunderbird releases, he puts the songs first and sticks his harp to mouth on those that deserve and/or warrant the instrument. So, let's just begin with the last listed track, Doctor Isaiah Ross' Cat Squirrel (if anyone picked up the latest Collard Greens and Gravy, a good comparison could be made between their version and this 'un). Wilson lays down the mic and whomps out and drives the good Doctor's lick ideas acoustically and into the juke joint where it belongs. Wilson doesn't try to fancy it up any, just play it like it's supposed to be played. He also puts a ragged edge on his other wise smooth vocals to keep the tune way down in the alley where it belongs. The band keeps it there also, especially at the sticks of Jay Moeller's insistently crashing cymbals. The duo guitarists simply riff the rhythm to make the ragged feel stick.
Wilson doesn't break out his harp until the fifth track, Pay Back Time, which is one of the seven originals on the twelve tracks. It's just a nasty ol' blues, with Resonator slide rippin' and Wilson singing through his harp mic to put it in a "downhome" mood, until the band kicks into gear and brings it up to date, and Wilson spits out a few note warbles to set the tone. He jumps in and out with the harp, but it's not the song's feature. Jay Moeller and Bermudes bounce the song around significantly and no one uses those cymbals for effect as well as Moeller.
Baby I Love You invokes Wilson to pull out some Jerry McCain style riffs, mashed up with the Louisiana vibe that he's always been so good at. He waits until halfway through the song before laying it down and getting swamp juice all over it. The boys show how well they can drive a shuffle in a way that just smells and drips T-Bird groove. Keller and Moeller's guitars blend together so well, like Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla and chocolate syrup. Just hard to tell who's the ice cream and who's the topping at any given time.
Satisfied is the butt rocker that kicks off the whole proceedings and informs us that these new guys have the goods to be called The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Wilson lets them showcase what we can expect for the entire CD. Drums and bass upfront, loud and yanking the gear shift into "D". Two guitarists swapping rhythm and lead, lead and rhythm, while Wilson sings his tale (and his tail off) of being nothing but satisfied with his love. Keller and Moeller's guitars get that twangy, reverby stuff going that T-Bird legend is made of.
Speaking of butt rockin', they pull out and cover One's Too Many (and A Hundred Ain't Enough) that was covered on the Butt Rockin' album with Jimmy Vaughan's watery reverb highlighting the tune. The band funks it up quite a bit more and the dynamic duo apply their own guitar-a-rama magic to claim the tune as their own. This is a hidden bonus track, following Cat Squirrel.
They also put a funky spin on O.V. Wright's soul number, Love The Way You Love, and T-Birdify it. One of the boys spits out some rapid fired solo licks towards the end of the number that are nothing short of incredible. The band is at their funkiest on Got To Bring It With You. I'm guessing Johnny Moeller is jacking the funk quotient up with the rhythm guitar that hits from the beginning, but could just as well be Keller. The solo breaks these guys break out backs me up when I say that they are the best guitar tandem working the blues today. They had my hair standing on end.
Bermudes' Runnin' From The Blues proves his meddle as a songwriter. It sits solidly in the soul blues stew and our guitarists prove that can twinkle with the strings in the vein of a Curtis Mayfield, but before the song has faded, they're ripping the blues and the band swoops to a crashing, bashing crescendo with Wilson singing his butt off. They apply the same style of rhythmic vibe to Wilson's Hold Me and dash the funk into it liberally. The crescendo builds to a similar climax with the band banging the hell out of the tune and riffs flying around the proceedings and echoing off the walls. Great stuff.
Okay, that's enough. This is hands down, the best band that Kim Wilson has put together and they've put out one of the best albums that bears the name The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Oh, did I mention the chicken pickin' rockabilly style slinging they get going on Take Me As I Am or the topical message about helping our own here in the U.S. on Do You Know Who I Am? No? Well, just go on over to http://www.fabulousthunderbirds.com/ and buy yourself a signed copy and listen for yourself.