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Martin Longley's Music Blog

BLUES SOUNDS: NEW YORK (Part 132)

03-06-2009

Fabulous Thunderbirds

Fabulous Thunderbirds Pic: Martin Longley

Hot on the heels of gigs by George Thorogood and Johnny Winter, Birmingham and Bilston are rapidly becoming a magnet for rockaboogie blues steamers. And now, The Fabulous Thunderbirds are coming to The Robin tonite. Martin Longley reports on their recent New York show...and plenty more besides.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds: Iridium

Bandleader Kim Wilson nowadays prefers to describe The Fabulous Thunderbirds as a beyond-the-blues kinda combo. Well, even though they smear up traces of funk, soul and rock'n'roll, this still isn't straying so much from the bluesy heartland. Perhaps singer and harmonica-blower Wilson is merely attempting to broaden his potential market after over three decades on the road.

This three-nighter at Broadway's Iridium is an unusual move for both band and venue, as most of the club's bookings usually veer towards the hardcore jazz variety. So, the first set of this final Sunday night is well populated, but the second show suffers from more of a sparse smatter. This is unfortunate, as the Thunderbirds really rev up at this point.

The first half's storming enough, but the second gears up to a much looser, wilder, faster level. The band's always benefited from Wilson's bullish theatrics, and he's still on form now, stalking out amongst the tables with an unamplified harp, but still cutting through with his unholy wail (or sometimes his unholy squeak!).

For the second set, he favours his microphone-and-amplifier set-up, gearing up to the rockin' power blast. If this isn't excitement enough, the 'birds also feature a twin lead guitar attack, although it's Johnny Moeller who probably has the edge over Mike Keller, at least in terms of uninhibited energy and amplifier brutality. Keller's soloing finely, but is a touch restrained by comparison, even though he's firing off some impressively convoluted retro-garage twang-licks. This is a band that rolls ever onwards, keeping up the same high standards, decade by decade.


Robben Ford: B.B. King Blues Club

It's another one of those enterprising blues package tours, with Californian guitarist Ford and his band being joined by old Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna axeman Jorma Kaukonen, plus still-rising singer Ruthie Foster, who also plays acoustic guitar and keyboards. Ford's past has revolved around fusionist activities, whether jazz or rock, but he's still primarily considered a man of the blues, even though he made his name as a member of The Yellowjackets.

The Texan Foster opens with a short solo acoustic set, and she's pleasing enough, in her folk-gospel singer-songwriterly way, but it's her recorded work with a kickingly funky band that would grab our butts the mostest. Thankfully, she gets to play this way later on in the proceedings, as she joins Ford's band for a few climactic numbers. Ford was a guest on her latest album, so it's no surprise that they reprise a clutch of its songs.

The chief characteristic of Kaukonen is a different kind of versatility, compared to that displayed by Ford. Jorma's solo spot features him sitting down with an acoustic, playing the old-time troubadour role as he picks out detailed folksy phrases. Later, when he joins the Ford combo, he too is slinging electric, dashing off solos that inhabit the psychedelic rock afterburn zone.

At first he's crying out for the mixing desk to give him more volume, equal to Ford's, but eventually the pair achieve some kind of equality. Both of Kaukonen's aspects are engaging, but the amped-up climax comes as a surprise if this is a virgin experience of his wares. Ford is a fiery, forceful and slick player, but for much of the gig his delivery lies routinely in the blues-rock middle-ground. It takes the fresh dynamics of his guest stars to tilt the mood, providing a flash of what feels like improvisational unpredictability.

Perhaps this is really the case, in the formative stage of what's destined to be a marathon US trek.


Cornell Dupree & The Papahoodoo Medicine Show
B.B. King Blues Club


It's certainly not every night that the B.B King Blues Club actually presents the blues itself, but when they do, it's frequently in the shape of a three-band revue. That's a lot of music to be heard in a single sitting, with gaps between the combos being customarily brief, but the sense of cumulative excitement can often be exhilarating. It's best when the volume curve is adjusted accordingly. T

here have been nights when the rockiest screamers have unfortunately preceded old-timey slinksters. Quieter, subtler souls, who need to precede the bombast. Fortunately, tonite the Texan R&B headliner Cornell Dupree appears prior to the frenzied, amplifier-ripping Lance Lopez, from down in New Orleans. Both guitarists are impressive, but in completely different ways, and at completely different decibel levels.

The fiery opening set comes courtesy of Nashville's Johnny Jones Band, backed up by The Papahoodoo Medicine Show from New Jersey. This combo sticks around to bolster Dupree's set, unusually blending acoustic and synthesised drums, and boasting a crackling harmonica-blower, Captain J. Roosa.

There's been a new development since Dupree's last gig at this club: now he's got an oxygen cannister sitting by his side, but this doesn't seem to impede his performance, as the stinging guitar solos begin their slippery assault. Lopez closes the night with a raging wall of guitar howl. He's excessive, yes, but sounds just right to rip, once the more sensitively rolling Dupree has already rambled through.

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