Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Bluesmasters Featuring Mickey Thomas reviewed by Steve Jones

The Bluesmasters Featuring Mickey Thomas
The Bluesmasters
Direct Music Distribution
11 tracks

I’m going to admit up front I am not and never was a big fan of Elvin Bishop’s “I Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. I thought it was more pop music, not really serious blues nor even serious rock, at least in my dinosaur like mind. Mickey Thomas, the high pitched Jefferson Starship lead singer, can hit higher notes than a lot of female singers I know, provided the vocals for Bishop. The song was a last minute album filler and became a legend.

Well, circle forward 34 years to 2009 and there we are with a 60 year old Thomas and the Bluesmasters , a band consisting of Tim Tucker on guitar, Doug Lynn on harp, Danny Miranda on bass, Aynsly Dunbar on drums and Ric Ulsky on B3 organ and lo and behold we get a remake of the song. It gets a slightly grittier take here, but Thomas’ vocals are still as stratospheric as they were in 1975 when Bishop tapped him because his gravelly voice did not do the song justice. If you are a fan of the song, you’ll love this.

Now the rest of the album, well, that’s another story. The other ten tracks are covers of bluesy songs that get respectful and pretty hot treatment. They open with Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner’s “Cherry Red” and blow through all eleven tracks in high energy fashion. “Cherry Red” is hot. Thomas does a good job on vocals but Lynn’s harp work is just sick. Muddy’s “Rock Me Baby” gets an all star cover, too. The vocals, harp and guitar wail and wail. They also do Mud’s “Can’t Get No Grindin’” with a special duet with Magic Slim and Thomas. Slims vocals contrast with Thomas and they pull it off. His guitar work is also spectacular. Slim is also on the Phil Collin’s tune “Get Your Business Straight”. Straight up blues, another darn good duet with great guitar play.

Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired” blasts off with more solid harp and vocals. Billy Foster’s “I’d Rather Go Blind”, which was an Etta James classic, gets a nice soulful cover. Thomas’ vocals are great, and the B3 organ sets a churchlike atmosphere. The guys close with “Long Time” by guitarist Tim Tucker. A bit overly dramatic in rock ballad anthem fashion, but if this is your cup of tea you’ll eat it up. To me it’s the lowest point after the Bishop tune. “Walkin’ Blues” (Robert Johnson) gets a nice electric slide cover, “Third Degree” (Willie Dixon and Eddie Boyd) prove these guys can do slow blues very well, and “Over Yonder Wall” (James Clark) gives us a hotter and somewhat greasier than original Elmore James classic with even Thomas getting a bit gritty on the vocals.

I had low expectations but thoroughly enjoyed the 9 real blues tracks. If you like Mickey Thomas, this is a no brainer. The band backing him is superb, so be ready to hold on to your chair because they spin these covers quite well! It’s an interesting little project no matter how you slice and dice it!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

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