His lips are the most prominent feature on the face of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kim Wilson’s vocals and harp have been driving the Austin-based band since 1974, when Jimmy Vaughan and Wilson teamed up to start the band. Vaughan’s twangy Texas guitar was an equal partner in the band’s sound ’til Vaughan left in 1990, and subsequent guitarists Duke Robillard and Kid Bangham, Nick Curran and Kirk Eli Fletcher, and currently Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller have held up that twang tradition.
The only remaining original member, Wilson is not only the frontman but an avid blues scholar who has been dipping into his encyclopedic knowledge of the genre to conduct side projects over the years featuring blues legends and their material. Blues and Boogie Vol. 1 is the beginning of a collection of material from artists Wilson has admired and been inspired by, with promises of many more to come.
The singer/harpist says the material is stuff he always wanted to do, but with his own twist on it. The artists are familiar: Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson are well represented. But the material is not the same old stuff usually drug up by revivalists. Wilson’s offerings are not obscure, but its fair to say they’re not readily recognizable by a casual blues fan. But Wilson has picked well. “No Love In Your Heart,” recorded by Elmore James and his Broomdusters in ’55, is a note-for-note cover till Nathan James steps out with a wiggly jazzy guitar solo, then Wilson gets little livelier longer than James did on his version, going out roaring like Big Joe Turner. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRJpERwzMZI
Sonny Boy’s “Ninety Nine” is a dedicated cover, but Wilson stretches out bit more on harp than Sonny Boy did on his ’58 original, Barrelhouse’s Chuck’s piano spewing out a torrent of tinkly accompaniment. Jimmy Reed’s “You Upset My Mind” plods along like a man mired up to his knees in Delta soil,Wilson viciously bending reeds while Big John Atkinson and Nathan James jab at the melody, their guitars clanging like anvils hit with a nine-pound sledge. Although “Learn To Treat Me Right” is a Wilson original, culled from 2001’s Smokin’ Joint, it sounds like it could have been Slim Harpo captured live in a swampy jukejoint. On his ’54 release,“Sho Nuff I Do,” Elmore James sounded like he’d been laid up in the cemetery all night garglin’ moonshine, his voice as cracked as old shoe leather. Wilson’s vocal is much prettier with some nice vibrato, but he still delivers the message, although his sounds more like a sinner down on his knees in church than James howlin’ at the moon in a graveyard.
Well sourced and presented with a stellar cast of sideman, this one and its followers will make fight-you-for-’em presents under the Christmas tree for generations.