Strong Like That
Over their 40+ years
of existence, The Fabulous Thunderbirds have
evolved, both in terms of personnel and music.
Starting out as one of the finest Texas roadhouse
blues band with an irresistible mix of Texas, New
Orleans, and Gulf Coast blues and R&B, in recent
years the T-Birds have expanded into deep and
greasy southern soul. Their last release, 2013’s On
The Verge, was their first in eight years, and
definitely had strong leanings toward soul. Their
new release, Strong Like That (Severn Records),
continues in that vein, and more so.
Singer/harmonica player Kim Wilson is the lone
remaining founding member, and only guitarist
extraordinaire Johnny Moeller remains from On The
Verge, but the new members fill the gap just fine,
thank you. Keyboardist Kevin Anker, bassist Steve
Gomes, and drummer Robb Stupka have long been a part
of the Severn team as writers, performers, and
producers (Anker and Gomes co-produced the album
with Wilson and David Earl) and this blend of soul
and blues is part of their musical DNA.
Strong Like That features ten songs, two penned by
Wilson, one by Gomes, and seven covers that
alternate between well-known and seldom heard. The
opener is a reading of the Temptations’ ’60s hit,
“(I Know) I’m Losing You,” that transforms the soul
classic into a downbeat blues, successfully enabled
by Wilson’s edgy, somewhat paranoid vocal and the
haunting steel guitar of Roosevelt Collier and
relentless beat rhythm from drummer Wes Watkins.
There’s also a pair of covers from the criminally
underrated soul singer/composer Paul Kelly (“Don’t
Burn Me” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me”), one of which
features guest Anson Funderburgh on lead guitar.
Other covers include “Drowning On Dry Land,”
“Somebody’s Getting It,” “Where’s Your Love Been,”
and I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You
Do),” associated with O.V. Wright, Johnnie Taylor,
Sandra Rhodes, and Eddie Floyd, respectively. On
these songs and others, the T-Birds’ funky rhythms
are punctuated by a crisp horn section (Kenny
Rittenhouse – trumpet/arranger, Joe Donegan –
trumpet, Antonio Orta – tenor sax/flute, Bill Holmes
– trombone), and lively background vocals (Christal
Rheams, Caleb Green, Sara Mia).
The three originals are keepers, too. Wilson’s pair
of tunes include the upbeat “Smooth” and “Meet Me
On The Corner,” the most blues-centric cut on the
disc. His harp runs are more plentiful this time
around and he continues to prove that he is one of
the finest living (or non-living) harmonica players.
Gomes wrote the title track, a defiant midtempo
number with a funky backdrop that closes things out.
Strong Like That continues The Fabulous
Thunderbirds’ exploration of the soul side of the
blues most successfully. Though the emphasis is on
the soul side, the blues still burns hot within.