Well Biscuiteers, we were very busy last week and it was capped by a trip to Rochester to see Dan Baird & Homemade Sin so I didn’t get to the Friday Fast Five Reviews. So, today we’re going with a favorite American radio cliche and do Two For Tuesday. Fast Five should be back this week but we have some other things lined up too so we’ll see what happens. Until then…
Released September 2013
Friend is a fitting title for the new album from Billy Thompson. He is joined by many musicians he calls friend, and many of the songs address relationships in society that would benefit from amicable, friendly relations. In opener “Soldier of Misfortune” Thompson sings about the effect of the military industrial complex on our society and the lives it affects, including soldiers returning injured, both mentally and physically. They need a lot of things, not least of which is a friend. Thompson’s stinging guitar punctuates his points and he pours out his distress at the situation through his playing. “Many Faces” addresses racial and cultural divides that could be eliminated if we focused on our commonalities – a friendly notion indeed. Billy’s friend Ron Holloway sits in on sax, contributing a spirited solo and tasty fills.
Billy Thompson’s style reminds me of Little Feat so I wasn’t surprised to learn Kenny Gradney and Bill Payne sat in on Friend. “Garden” features Bill Payne on keys and has a churning beat and greasy slide. Thompson’s voice is a perfect blend of Lowell George and Paul Barrere and makes this sound like long lost 70’s Feat. That’s a good thing. “Satisfied” features both Gradney and Payne, and drummer Eric Selby lays down a driving, marching beat. Thompson’s guitar work is slippery, slick, and slithering. This is a fast paced rocker and will definitely get you moving. “Got To Be Did” has a Little Feat feel too and features no one from Little Feat at all. Four songs on Friend feature the keyboard talents of Mike Finnigan. You may have seen Finnigan’s name in the credits for Jimi Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland or from The Phantom Blues Band. Finnigan’s chops are in fine form on Friend. All the keyboard players on Friend, including Mike Peed and Wes Lanich, add depth and intrigue to the music. They keyboards serve as a great counterpoint to Thompson’s guitar and in other places provide layers of sound.
Friend is a highly satisfying album and covers a lot of bases. The stellar musicianship and the friendly attitude between the bandleader Billy Thompson, his guests, and his road band allowed the best possible music to be made. Friend came out in 2013, and if you missed it, here’s your chance to catch up with this tremendous music.
When You Coming Home?
Released August 2014
When Are You Coming Home? is the debut disc from New York City’s J. Blake. The title track is a slow burning blues tour de force. At five and a half minutes it’s the longest tune of the set and he leaves it all hanging out. Impassioned vocals, searing solos, and a broken relationship spin into a perfect storm. “When You Coming Home?” is one of three tunes written or co-written by Blake on the disc including opener “Ain’t No Good (At Lovin’ You)”. This swampy blues showcases J. Blake’s gritty vocals, and the lyrics are a twist on the classic tale of woe. Instead of the woman complaining about his running around and drinking, he’s laying it out for her instead, without apology and without remorse. There are several twists on the record and they make for an enjoyable listen, especially given his choice of covers.
J. Blake has a knack for making covers interesting. Sometimes I hate covers, especially when a million and one people have done the song, like “Spoonful.” A lot of people know the Howlin’ Wolf version and maybe even more know the Cream version and somewhere in between you get the style of most covers. Blake deconstructs “Spoonful” and rebuilds it as a smoky jazz club tune to be played around 2 am when booze soaked patrons are looking around at their final options to stave off loneliness yet again. Keyboardist Stephen Hastings owns this version and his cascading runs make you forget about the guitar heavy versions of “Spoonful” you’ve heard all your life. The rhythm section of Mike Berman on bass and Scott Hamilton on drums work magic on this track too, as does J. Blake, who avoids the guitar histrionics and overwrought vocals in exchange for a gentler delivery all around. This is a great re-imaging of a classic tune.
Blake twists another classic around in knots too with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll.” He puts it to a Bo Diddley beat and his almost whispered vocals are the antithesis of the wailing Robert Plant. It’s a fitting tribute to a band notorious for keeping lyrics and eschewing the original music in exchange for the more dynamic Page riffery. Blake makes great use of the Diddley beat and you’ll be scratching your head wondering what other Led Zeppelin tunes could be turned on their heads this way. Blake may have only a few original compositions on the disc, but his rearrangements of others are inventive and certainly original. This is an auspicious first step and I look forward to the future.