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Published: 2013/03/23
by Brian Robbins

The Fabulous Thunderbirds
On The Verge

Severn Records

My only quibble with the pre-release PR on The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ new album On The Verge is the reference to it being “a departure for the legendary blues rockers as they explore their soulful side.” Heck, as far as I’m concerned, the T-Birds might have been a blues band from the beginning but there’s always been a shot of soul at their elbow. (Go back and listen to hits like “Stand Back” – you tell me what you hear.) The point I want to make is this: On The Verge isn’t the work of old warhorses trying on a new outfit – the T-Birds’ soulmen suits fit them just fine.

Things get underway with “I Want To Believe”: angular guitars (Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller) weave with Kevin Anker’s keys as Randy Bermudes’ bass loops around Jason Moeller’s hard-snapping drums. “I want to believe things are gonna be alright,” sings Kim Wilson – and they are: the Thunderbirds work the tune’s groove (listen to Bermudes walk his bass’ neck with big ol’ rubbery steps) as Wilson testifies, sounding as good as he ever has. Everything shifts a gear as they hit the bridge at the 2:43 mark, suspended mid-air in a Stonesy “Miss You”-style shimmer and then … bawoomp bawoomp bawoomp bawoomp – the bass leads them into the finale. Cool? You bet yer ass it’s cool.

At times On The Verge has the R&B vibe of an 80s-vintage Robert Cray album (which is a good thing) – tunes like “Too Much” and “Lonely Highway” in particular are flavored with a little bit of that funky Strong Persuader darkness, bolstered by Wilson’s blues harp. Everybody gets all Muscle Shoalsy on “Lovin’ Time”; “Do You Know Who I Am?” may sound like a blowhard’s refrain, but it’s actually some heartfelt commentary from everyman’s next-door neighbor; “Hold Me” is all about sweet contentment; and the groove of “Got To Bring It With You” is thick and syrupy.

The thing that immediately makes this recognizable as a Fabulous Thunderbirds album, of course, is founding frontman Kim Wilson’s presence – and the raunchy “That’s The Way We Roll” is a showcase for Wilson’s bawdy harp moans and growling vocals. The song’s slow hip-rolling beat is emphasized by some nasty wocka-wocka wah-pedaled guitar; Wilson’s voice is mic’d and mixed to be almost indecipherable from his harmonica – except for when he simply draws off and blows the hell out of the latter. When everything drops out, leaving just the drums and Wilson’s wild-assed harp moans, well … that’s what sexy sounds like, boys and girls … that there is sweaty, greasy, funky, look-you-straight-in-the-eye sex and that’s all there is to it.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds simply sound alive on On The Verge – and Kim Wilson is still one of the coolest white guys you know. Next year might mark 40 years since the T-Birds first took flight in Austin, TX, but shee-it … these son-of-a-guns are hot.

Have mercy.

*****

Brian Robbins has some wocka-wocka in a jar over at www.brian-robbins.com

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