The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Strong Like That

(MRI Entertainment)

Kim Wilson has become over time an almost John Mayall figure within US music – sticking to the music that brought him initial fame and always changing his backing musicians. I read a piece a while ago wherein Wilson opined that touring with younger players was refreshing as the old-timers did little but say how good things were Back Then….

This time, besides his own harp and vocal the core group comprises Johnny Moeller on guitar, Kevin Anker on keys, bassist Steve Gomes and Robb Stupka on drums.

I’m Losing You is the old Temptations tune which Rod and The Faces used to torch back in the day at their Marquee shows in London and elsewhere. The FT treatment starts slowly with warm electric piano, slivers of harp and guitar joined by pulsing bass and pattering drums. So far, so cool. Wilson sings in a style best described as relaxed intensity, doing full justice to the mistrust-soaked lyrics. Moeller provides a rather good Butch Trucks impression on the slide.  At 2:28 that distinctive harp starts to wail. The drums beat a relentless rhythm that would suit a hiphop workout.  Fading away @ 4:10, it’s over too soon…

Don’t Burn Me sprinkles wah wah over an ominous Curtis Mayfield style mood, a soulful vocal chorale lending a Little Milton tinge. Kim really is his own man as regards singing. The Hammond is a good touch and a guitar solo – Anson Funderburgh – snakes out of the mix. Not oversinging this lends a sultry, controlled-anger edge to the song and it’s an album highlight. The drums are straight off a Hi label Peebles/Al Green session. Next up is You’re Gonna Miss Me the tremelo’d and wah’d guitar slinking along as cupped hands harmonica whines and trills. Groovy stuff somewhere between Bobby Bland and Slim Harpo..not a bad place to be!

Drowning On Dry Land is a song I used to do, having nicked it from an Roy Buchanan LP and changed the key. Hammond chords push the number along and the excellent bass bubbles just beneath the sonic surface, Wilson sings in a masterful manner, telling the tale. Smooth is a downhome rockin’ song and not the Santana hit. Pleasant but not striking. Somebody’s Getting It however hits a funk mood with stabbing horns and a neat ascending motif. Plenty of space for the burbling bass. The chorale hits a gospel groove s the rhythm guitar chips away. Authentic R&B as we used to enjoy it.

Meet Me On The Corner rolls out and gives Wilson a platform for his best vocal on the disc. Something of Sam Cooke / Bobby Womack about this blues workout. Then we get Where’s Your Love Been? which has more of that cool piano and a dirty stuttering guitar tone that sounds plain grimy. It’s a Rhodes sisters song. The horns sound dark and emphatic, sure suits the song. A catchy song and my favourite on this set. Easy-going guitar solo’ing keeps that mucky tone.  I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do) is a smooth soul ballad with a backbeat that Wilson sings extremely well, the horns to the fore and fabulous drumming holding it all together.

Strong Like That is the closing cut and title track and shows off the back-alley harp over a soft tread of a tempo. I imagine it’s a set-closer with namechecks – sure sounds a good vehicle for an exit.

More relaxed perhaps than the FB of old, there is something satisfying and rich about the sound of this set. Not one note, tempo, lyric or tone that you couldn’t have heard in the late 60s – but that matters not with an album of this quality not trying to be anything but authentic. And that it certainly is.

Pete Sargeant

(Thanks ND of TWO)


The Fabulous Thunderbirds new album ‘Strong Like That’ is out now on MRI Entertainment. 

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