Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Better Man reviewed by Mark Thompsom

A Better Man
Billy Thompson
Papa Lee Records
13 tracks/58:53

Last November I volunteered to help Kate Moss with a benefit she staged in Chicago for the Blue Star Connection organization, which provides musical instruments to seriously ill children. During the evening, I had the pleasure of talking with Tony Braunagel, drummer for the Phantom Blues Band and an acclaimed producer. At one point I asked Tony what projects he was really excited about. He immediately mentioned several, particularly one by Billy Thompson. Braunagel encouraged me to check it out. So I contacted Thompson (no relation) to get a review copy of his latest disc.

After one listen, it was easy to see why Braunagel was so excited about this project. Thompson is a soulful singer and talented guitarist who also excels at songwriting. He delivers an all-original program with Kristen Trump helping with the lyrics on five tracks. The backing band includes Braunagel on drums plus two other members of the Phantom Blues Band, Mike Finnigan on keyboards and Johnny Lee Schell on guitar & vocals. Kenny Gradney from Little Feat and Hutch Hutchinson handle all of the bass parts.

Thompson utilizes a wide musical palette, shouting out his promise to change on the rousing title track and honoring a friend's memory on “Johnny Is a Cloud”, a funky blues with biting, Albert King-style guitar and the Texacali Horns – Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublett on saxophone. “Born Again” is a heartfelt ballad with a strong gospel feel. Thompson's vocal will hit you deep in your soul. “Who Knew” shows Billy can wring plenty of feeling out of a slow blues. His knockout guitar solo is a treat.  Thompson channels the classic Little Feat sound on on “Noreen” and “Downside Up”, his slide guitar dominating both tracks. Mike Peed on clavinet and Miki Morrissette on backing vocals join Thompson in celebrating the elemental nature of love on “Oneness”. “Bleed” is a somber tune featuring some raw slide licks as Thompson assesses the state of the world. The closing track, “Up in the Morning”,  finds Thompson on acoustic slide and harmonica with only Braunagel and Hutchinson in support on a brooding song about a good woman's love.

The top-notch musicians and Braunagel's skills as a producer breathe plenty of life into every track. Billy Thompson's expressive singing and noteworthy guitar work bring all of the elements together in a sharp package that deserves to be heard. Help spread the word about this multi-talented musician. Take my word for it – you need to check this one out!

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