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Album Review

Since the departure of founding guitarist Jimmie Vaughan in the early '90s, Texas blues-rock icons the Fabulous Thunderbirds have largely been the showcase for lead vocalist/harmonica man Kim Wilson. However, with the conscription of time-traveling blues pimp powerhouse guitarist/vocalist Nick Curran, Wilson has finally put together an ensemble truly worthy of the Fabulous Thunderbirds moniker. Curran, a former rockabilly wunderkind with retro-vamp Kim Lenz and avowed Vaughan acolyte — the former Thunderbird even made a torch-passing appearance on Curran's 2003 Blind Pig release Doctor Velvet — has of late been a party to his own authentic brand of jump blues, '50s rockin' swing, and garage rock iconoclasm. Ironically, while promoting his 2004 Blind Pig blues nugget Player!, Curran parted ways with his longtime rhythm section including ex-Fabulous Thunderbird bassist Preston Hubbard only to then join up with Wilson. As a fan, one could only be left perplexed at Curran's hasty move, but also curious as to what this would do to the sound of the Thunderbirds. The answer is Painted On, the fifth Thunderbirds album since Vaughan left and the one to come the closest to recapturing the original lineup's fire and bravado. Centered around the gritty, distorted garage rock vibe of the title track, the album is a mix of classic Thunderbirds touchstones including catchy Tex-Mex rockabilly-style numbers like "Two-Time Fool," danceably funky New Orleans R&B workouts including Earl King's "Feeling My Way Around," and of course volcanic blues-rock brought full tilt via such originals as "Got to Get Out" and the gut-pounding "Rock Candy." Fans of Curran will be glad to find that, more than just a hired gun, he gets to grab the spotlight with his own shuffle blues "You Torture Me." However, it is not just Curran who adds life to the album. On the contrary, longtime Thunderbirds pianist "Uncle" Gene Taylor, bumptastic bassist Ronnie James Weber, and Portland percussion dynamo drummer Jimi Bott bring a seriously groovy rhythm section vibe to the album. Then you have guitarist Kirk Eli Fletcher, who matches Curran note bend for bend as one of the most low-down blues slingers of his generation. Throw in a guest vocal spot from Detroit Cobras vocalist Rachel Nagy, who pairs up with Wilson for the Wilson Pickett-worthy "Love Speaks Louder Than Words," and you don't just have the best Fabulous Thunderbirds album in years, but also one of the best blues albums of the year.

Biography

Formed: 1974 in Austin, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

With their fusion of blues, rock & roll, and R&B, the Fabulous Thunderbirds helped popularize roadhouse Texas blues with a mass audience in the '80s and, in the process, they helped kick-start a blues revival during the mid-'80s. During their heyday in the early '80s, they were the most popular attraction on the blues bar circuit, which eventually led to a breakthrough to the pop audience in 1986 with their fifth album, Tuff Enuff. The mass success didn't last too long,...
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