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June 2005

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Little Al Thomas
In The House

Little Al Thomas

Little Al Thomas was born in Chicago in 1930. He grew up on the south side in the Maxwell street area. In the ’60s and '70s, he regularly played the Windy City’s clubs. Until the mid-'80s, he worked with guitarist Lacy Gibson before starting a long-lasting relationship with the Crazy House Band. Thomas remained relatively unknown until his 1999 release, South Side Story, on the now defunct Cannonball label.

In The House (Crosscut Records) was recorded live November 17 and 18, 2000 at the Lucerne Blues Festival in Luzerne, Switzerland. It is one of six CDs in the In The House series. The songs are mostly covers from the likes of B.B. King, Magic Sam, Big Bill Broonzy, and Chuck Willis. However, the crowd just loves it.

The Crazy House Band is lead by Thomas ‘Mot’ Dutko whose drumming is impressive, and contains more than basic blues beats. Raw, south side Chicago blues roars out of Thomas, a former steelworker turned vocalist.

Little Al's scintillating 10-song set includes all of his trademark tunes including Louis Jordan's "Somebody Changed The Lock On My Door." It is about being locked out of your own home, and having someone else take your place. Here, Thomas belts out the lyrics with enthusiasm and inflection. It is a danceable version where the swinging and pumping saxes, of Myron Harvey and Bill Voltz, sound ready to groove all night. When John Edelmann solos on guitar, there is no brass accompaniment, so you focus on his dynamic strings. The punchy horns give “Feel So Good” bounce. The husky vocals and rough, harsh guitar bring it down in the basement. At the end of the track, Thomas jokes that he is feeling good thanks to Viagra.

On “You’re Breaking My Heart,” Edelmann solos into a frenzy. His guitar is kept from leaving the atmosphere, thanks to Thomas’ screams and the horns’ blasts. Edelmann doesn’t make his guitar screech like a banshee. No, Edelmann is a pure blues guitarist, and a mature songwriter who contributes two originals here.

“Memphis Girl” has a soul-funk to it along with a Creedence Clearwater Revival groove. Overall, it has a southern feel and flavor. It is about a southern belle with Memphis charm. “Chicago is so cold / I can’t be satisfied / Take me to Memphis / By the riverside,” excitedly sings Thomas. “Feel So Bad” is an all time classic tune with great blues lyrics and a clever arrangement. This version, of the song, lacks nothing. Here, Edelmann’s thrilled guitar expresses the blues like not many others can.

“Nobody Sleepin’ In My Bed” is about being a confirmed bachelor, and it is the 60-minute disc’s longest tune. Experience the feelings erupt, courtesy of the album’s most impressive and emotionally played guitar.

The straight production, by Thomas & Company, is simple and clean. Thomas loves to croon, holler, and hold notes for a long time while warbling. However, you can’t always make out the words he sings. Thomas rolls certain words using the right amount of phlegm.

Throughout, Edelmann proves worthy of a guitarist of the year award, or several.

Just about every cut also appears on Thomas’ aforementioned debut disc, so you won’t need both.

This live record is one of the best “real blues” CDs I have heard in a long time. I know, you read that a lot from us reviewers. Well, this time, believe it!

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist/Photographer


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