LITTLE AL THOMAS & THE DEEP DOWN FOOLS
NOT MY WARDEN
Music Avenue (250259)
Long Ride To The South Side, I'm Gonna Buy A Politician, Not My Warden, Ready Freddie, Wonder What You Think, Don't Take The Keys, Anger Heats My House, Cartoon Lover, Old Time Used To Be, Big Time Operators, West Side Wind, Reconsider Baby, Coronado.
I was wading through the current tide of contemporary blues CDs to find you something worthwhile, getting tired of hearing the same old licks and Little Walter wannabees when I came across this little gem (Ain't I kind - doing it so you don't have to?) and from the first few bars I just knew it was a hot number.
Blues vocalist Little Al Thomas is a household name on the Chicago blues scene but otherwise obscure despite having appeared with the Bobby Bland Revue in the fifties, playing with Lacy Gibson in the 70s and making a couple of albums in the nineties. The Deep Down Fools are a four piece band that really delivers; the bass player stays right in the groove and the Hammond B3 player is funky as hell, as are the real blues drummer and impressive guitarist/leader John Edelmann who took up blues guitar after hearing BB King's Live At Cook County Jail. Later, he spent time in Chicago working with Hubert Sumlin, Sam Lay and AC Reed before meeting up with Little Al Thomas and eventually forming The Deep Down Fools.
Little Al has a perfect blues voice - commanding and charismatic on the heavy slow burners like Anger Heats My House, cool and controlled on the jazzy weave of Fulson's Reconsider Baby and deep and booming on the hard drive of Wonder What You Think. He's got a great way with phrasing too, like on the outstanding opening number Long Ride To The South Side, which he delivers in an almost conversational style, stretching out syllables to ride across the funky grooves.
He puts in a great performance all through this album and like all real professionals he knows when to put the vocals on hold and allow the band to shine. And shine they do. This album is as much theirs as Al's as they develop themes, lay down a driving beat and shimmer around Al's vocal lines like an outfit that knows how to work together. Rob Water's B3 playing is a joy - especially on the jazzy numbers where his sound reminds me of some of Jimmy McGriff's best moments and drummer Marty Binder knows when to slap out the backbeat and when to add the fills and rolls that keep the whole thing driving along. But it's John Edelmann's guitar playing that intrigues me most. His soulful, sinuous playing on the slow blues ballads is a joy to hear and when he strides into his hard attacking style on the shuffles he sounds like a cross between BB King and Duke Robillard and, at times, on tracks like Long Ride To The South Side, there's a definite hint of Little Feat's Lowell George slide.
There are three instrumentals on the CD and all of them feature the guitar wrangling of Edelmann. West Side Wind is a strong blues shuffle with shades of Magic Sam's technique, Ready Freddie is an up-tempo blues drenched in propulsive guitar and some nice Rob Waters B3 work and Coronado is a cool item underscored with a percolating B3 rhythm while Edelmann gets to grips with the theme - his glistening guitar tone adds a Latin tinge among the blue notes and it's one of my favourite tracks on the album.
It's great to hear Little Al Thomas and The Deep Down Fools and even better to know that there are still musicians out there who can come up with some truly fresh and exciting contemporary blues music. This band works and, in my humble opinion, they've made one of the best albums of the year.
Review Date: March 2010