Album Reviews

The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Strong Like That

Artist:     The Fabulous Thunderbirds

Album:     Strong Like That

Label:     Seven

Release Date:     08/26/2016


Thirty-seven years ago the Fabulous Thunderbirds rumbled out of Austin, Texas and broke small-scale sound barriers with their butt-rockin’ blues. Songs such as Kim Wilson’s swinging “Wait on Time” or their caveman-funky treatment of the New Orleans minor classic “The Monkey,” made indelible marks just by being so damn real. There was Wilson with a smooth, smoky, commanding voice blowing mean blues harp in the vein of his heroes like James Cotton and Little Walter. Next to him was Jimmie Lee Vaughan—Stevie’s Ray’s brother/mentor—bending notes as wicked-cool and sharp as his look. Standup bass and jazzman drumming underneath? How could a quartet go wrong? The T-Birds have spread their wings, but always remain straight and true. Soul became a recurring style for them, and especially for Wilson. Strong Like That retains a blues edge but lights a major blaze under that soul meter. Wilson’s the lone mainstay, leading a band of new Thunderbirds that have a long-shared telepathy. Guitarist Johnny Moeller, bassist Steve Gomes, keys man Kevin Anker, and drummer Rob Stupka all used to play with the fabulous Darrell Nulisch. Wilson leads them on sunny takes of Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” and his own “Smooth.” But, it all begins with a rather low-riding, damn near ominous take on the Temptations’ “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” thanks in great part to the not-so-sacred steel of guest Roosevelt Collier. Steamy sounds of the South, and Stax in Memphis in particular, penetrate covers of Florida soul great Paul Kelly’s “Don’t Burn Me” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” with fine, skittish interplay between Moeller and Wilson highlighting the latter. Wilson’s “Meet Me On the Corner” is full-on blues, and has him surely honoring James Cotton with some incredible freight train harp. A sweat-soaked take on Sandra Rhodes’ obscure “Where’s Your Love Been” keeps things super-hot right till the end, with the great Mr. Moeller firmly in the spotlight.

Whether on this, the fifteenth Fabulous Thunderbirds album, or on any of Wilson’s five solo albums, his vision is implemented perfectly. The songs he wrote, and the unique covers he chose, make for one of the best T-Birds albums in some time. Strong Like That indeed.

-Tom Clarke

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