ON THE VERGE
I Want To Believe, Lovin' Time, Too Much Water, Hold Me, Runnin' From The Blues, Do You Know Who I Am?, Got To Bring It With You, That's The Way We Roll, Diamonds Won't Kiss You Back, Lonely Highway
First album in yonks from the Kim Wilson and the team and, for this fact alone, there is bound to be more than a little interest and cheering among long-time fans of this revered butt-rockin', blues-shakin' band.
But, before you put up the bunting, this isn't the T-Birds as you remember them. While key personnel remain the same as in recent years - Wilson as de facto leader, front man, vocalist, songwriter and blues harp maestro; ably supported by twin guitarists Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller - this CD is a whole new sound and direction altogether. This is the Thunderbirds exploring their soulful side, and blimey, it sure is a peach.
With 10 original songs, the musical reference points have come a long way from the Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester and Jerry McCain influences of their early albums. What we have here is nearer the Stax southern soul and funk sound of the late 1960s and early 70s, with Wilson's normally prominent harp mastery being used much more sparingly than is usual.
Such an abrupt change in musical style can result in total failure or, at best, takes a while for the transition to deliver on the ambition but here the sound seems natural, unforced and confident. Indeed the only slightly contrived sound comes on That's The Way We Roll, the closest the band get to a blues track on the whole album. On the rest of the album, the impression is of a band that has locked into a sound and is enjoying the moment.
Wilson particularly leads from the front with an impressively soulful vocal delivery on a varied and always interesting set of songs, with the opening track I Want To Believe marking out the territory for the whole album, a funky soul number that could well have been recorded by the Staple Singers in the early 1970s. And when the harmonica does make an appearance for the first time on Too Much Water, it bumps up enormously the power and impact of an otherwise lovely song, sounding to me like the great Little Milton sides for Stax all those years ago.
There really isn't a dull moment or duff track and the band ooze class, control and power throughout. That's not to say however that it is not going to divide opinion among die-hard fans of the band. I'm sure there are some out there who want more of the Fab T-Bird sound they have grown accustomed to and may, indeed, want the band to make the same album time and time again. If however you are willing to give them a chance with their new direction, take it from me, the only thing that will disappoint is the album's cover (well, I don't like it anyway).
Review Date: March 2013