There are two sides to Kim Wilson's music career, with only a slight difference between the two. Wilson is best known as the bandleader / singer / harmonica player for The Fabulous Thunderbirds, a band that has achieved some measure of commercial success with their hard rockin' brand of blues. But when Wilson wants to get back to a purer blues sound, similar to the T-birds earlier recordings, he hits the road with The Kim Wilson Blues Band.
It's this latter ensemble that was captured live on two separate occasions, making up the 13 cuts found on Smokin' Joint, recorded both at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona and Cafe Boogaloo in Hermoso Beach, California. The rhythm section of Larry Taylor (bass) and Richard Innes (drums) appears on both sessions, while guitar duties are split between Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn (Phoenix date) and young hot shots Kirk Fletcher and Troy Gonyea (California gig). The Cafe Boogaloo band is bolstered by the addition of pianist Mark Stevens.
Smokin' Joint lives up to its name, as this is one hot disc throughout. The sound quality is impeccable and there's not a weak cut to be found. You'll feel like you're right there in the front row at both shows.
Wilson has a hard-earned reputation as one of the finest blues harp players ever, and he gives his instrument a thorough workout on "Oh Baby." You'll be grabbing the liner notes to see whether Little Walter was brought back to life for a guest appearance. But, no, that's really Wilson blowing the harp.
But Wilson is no stylistic impersonator, as you can hear on the original "Got To Let You Go," a jazzy number highlighted by Fletcher's frenetic playing and Wilson's hard drivin', horn-like blues harp riffs.
The title song is five minutes of pure harmonica bliss, with Wilson weaving together a collection of recognizable riffs, showing his great lung capacity by seemingly never stopping to breath from start to finish.
Wilson has always surrounded himself and shared the spotlight with world class guitar players, witness the succession of players who have been part of the T-birds lineup over the years --- Jimmie Vaughan, Duke Robillard, Kid Ramos, etc. This album is no exception, as it's every bit as much of a guitar showcase as a harmonica fan's delight. Zinn and Flynn literally tear it up on the opening number, the Dave Bartholomew-penned jump blues "Ain't Gonna Do It." The same two cats share the solos on the more soulful "Good Time Charlie" and again on the mid-tempo shuffle "Tomorrow Night."
In addition to the aforementioned "Got To Let You Go," Fletcher and Gonyea both contribute some pretty intricate guitar licks to the B.B. King shuffle "I Stay In The Mood."
Wilson, co-producer Bob Corritore and the folks at M.C. have done an excellent job in putting together one of the hottest blues CDs you'll hear this year. There's something for everyone here, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it earn more than a few awards. With nearly 75 minutes of music, it's a bargain.
--- Bill Mitchell
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Revised: July 31, 2001 - Version 1.00
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