Blues Bytes


March/April 2013

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The Fabulous Thunderbirds
On The Verge
Severn Records

Fabulous Thunderbirds

One of the first blues bands I started following way back in the early ’80s was The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Though I didn’t know much about the blues, I learned a lot listening to them. Their music was a mixture of Texas shuffles, swamp blues, and rock n’ roll, and I was inquisitive enough to start looking into the musicians that influenced them and discovering a lot of great music in the process. The T-Birds were formed in the mid ’70s, but didn’t really strike it rich until the mid ’80s with their massive hit, “Tuff Enuff.”

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. Founding member and ace guitarist Jimmie Vaughan departed in the early ’90s, along with other personnel changes. The one constant throughout has been founding member/singer/harmonica player Kim Wilson, who has kept the band going despite the many comings and goings. The current incarnation of the T-Birds is typically strong, with guitarists Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller, drummer Jason Moeller, and bassist Randy Bermudes. After an absence of new material from the racks since 2005, the band recently signed with Severn Records.

Their Severn debut, On The Verge, is different from most any other T-Bird recording you’ve heard. This disc comes straight out of Memphis with most of its influences. On previous T-Bird releases, Wilson would mix in the occasional soul or R&B tune and he certainly had the voice to carry them when he did, but the band has always been more geared toward its guitar players and so leaned more in the blues direction.

On The Verge is pretty much a soul/blues album with the emphasis on soul…not that there’s anything wrong with it. The members of the band are more than capable of recapturing the old sound with ease. This release just indicates that they are capable of branching out in different directions with ease, too. Most of these songs, all written by members of the band or the production conglomerate (Wilson, David Earl, keyboardist Kevin Anker, and Steve Gomes) show influences of artists like O.V. Wright (“Too Much Water”) or Junior Parker (“That’s The Way We Roll”), or the sounds of Stax Records (“Lonely Highway”).

However, there are also still nods to their previous works on some tunes. The canny opener, “I Want To Believe,” would have been a good fit on their late 80’s releases with its slow, greasy groove, and “Lovin’ Time” has a nice funky Texas feel to it. “Runnin’ From The Blues” is the straightest blues cut present, with a smooth vocal by Wilson, and Wilson’s wonderful harmonica work is still present as well, though not quite as prominent as previously.
The T-Birds have dabbled with horns and keyboards on occasion (most notably their late ’80s disc, Hot Number) but not with this much success. On The Verge introduces their fans to a whole new direction, but it doesn’t feel like a forced change, but one that easily blends with what’s gone before. After a near decade’s absence from the studio, it’s good to know that they still have plenty to say.

--- Graham Clarke
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