Friday, November 3, 2023

Archive Review: The Fabulous Thunderbirds' Painted On (2005)

For nearly thirty years now the Fabulous Thunderbirds have reigned as the kings of blues-rock, becoming an institution in the genre. Although the line-up has changed a time or two – frontman Kim Wilson being the only constant – the T-Birds have managed to weather musical currents with a revolving door of great guitarists (Jimmie Vaughan, Duke Robillard, Kid Ramos) and Wilson’s distinctive, original and highly personal interpretation of the blues.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Painted On

Painted On is both the band’s first studio album in eight years (ten if you dismiss the session-player dominated High Water) as well as the debut of new six-string tandem Nick Curran and Kirk Fletcher. Curran, known as a bit of a blues/rockabilly prodigy after stints with Kim Lenz and Ronnie Dawson, is a successful solo artist in his own right, and proves to be a good fit into the Thunderbirds’ sound. The other band members help provide a depth the Thunderbirds have not enjoyed since their mid-‘80s heyday. Fletcher, from Wilson’s solo band, is a quality musician of some subtlety, easily playing off Curran’s hellraising leads. Ronnie James Weber is a solid bassist and another veteran of Wilson’s solo work while drummer Jimi Bott is an in-demand sideman with over 60 entries on his session discography. Rounding out the sound is pianist Gene Taylor, with the longest tenure of any band member, drawing on experience earned as a member of Canned Heat and the Blasters.  

The resulting chemistry between Wilson and these bandmates is nothing short of astounding. Painted On showcases the band’s musical muscles as they flex their way through a dozen songs that run the gamut from heavy blooze-rock (“Hard Knock” and “Got To Get Out”) to Doug Sahm-inspired Tex-Mex (“Two Time Fool”). Along the way the Thunderbirds try their collective hand at honky-tonk country (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”) and New Orleans-flavored R&B (“Feeling My Way Around”) with great results. The highest peaks reached by Painted On, however, are Wilson’s energetic duet with the Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy on the soul rave-up “Love Speaks Louder Than Words” and on Curran’s original tune “You Torture Me,” a guitar-driven rocker that displays both Curran’s six-string prowess and Wilson’s legendary mouth harp work.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

For long-time fans of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Painted On represents a welcome return to form, easily the band’s best effort since Tuff Enuff twenty years ago as well as a creative high point in the T-Birds’ legendary career. The mix of new players has clearly re-energized Wilson, leading to as potent and powerful a collection of performances as has ever been featured under the Fabulous Thunderbirds name. (Tone-Cool Records/Artemis, 2005)

Review originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™, 2005

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