I know that I write a lot about the seasons. Jordan’s Branch is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and when you live on a mountain, the seasons are spectacular. Our winters may be colder, but our springs and autumns are amazing, and summer is nice and warm without being too hot.
It’s the transitions that excite me. It’s the moving of one area into another that are so interesting. In music, it’s moving from soft to loud or vice versa – you never want to stay the same.
In the Blues, sometimes there is a sameness to a particular artist. I’m not talking about just playing in one style – not that many artists leave their genre. How many Chicago style electric blues bands slow it down to play a Piedmont style ballad? If you’re comfortable in the Delta, you don’t have to play West Coast Jump Boogie.
But some artists like to combine styles in order to create their own unique sound. Jimmy Buffet successfully melded Country with the Caribbean and created his own distinct brand of music. And that is what Brad Wilson is trying to do with his sound.
This young artist has taken California surf-rock and mashed it up with the blues and is developing a fresh approach. He’s not all the way there yet, but for me, watching those transitions is a lot of fun.
His fifteenth album (and yet he's so young) BLUES THUNDER which is released on the Cali Bee Music Label has got a lot of hits and a few near misses (at least for me) but it is definitely worth listening to, and you might even find a couple you’ll want to keep around to jam to while driving.
All of the 12 songs on the disc were written by Wilson and he shows a versatility in his approach to writing. He covers different subjects and allows the members of his five-piece band to take a turn in the spotlight.
Wilson opens with a nice guitar riff as they launch into Is It Any Wonder, a slower paced number that smolders. His smoky low key vocals underscores his lyrics but that soaring guitar is what brings us in to the story.
He then increases the energy and pace for Change It Up. Here he’s commenting on the hits he’s taken and how he’s got to “keep on knocking” in order to survive and thrive. It’s a pretty cool number and again, he’s got some solid licks that run throughout the song.
Next up is one I love, Blue Shadows, a slow slow torch song that grabs you by the heart and holds on tight. For the first time his vocals are more powerful, more mature and Kirk Nelson’s keyboards provide the canvas for Wilson’s guitar. This could be played at closing time in just about any bar anywhere.
Then we get a little rocking number that nicely mixes in Tumbleweed Mooney’s (gotta love that name) harp. Step By Step moves nicely and sounds like it would be a great number to hear live. The title track lives up to its name. Blues Thunder rumbles down from on high and Wilson runs up and down his guitar with some fast flying fingers. This one is sort of Anthem Rock themed but would sure be a crowd pleaser at any festival.
Let’s Go Barefootin’ It is an unusual one. Here Wilson has mixed a great blues music background with some beach music lyrics. I have to be honest, the two didn’t mix as well as I would have liked – for me anyway. I’ve never been a beach music guy – but his music for this one is solid. When you listen to it, I would appreciate you dropping me a line and letting me know what you thought of it.
Before you start thinking badly about the Professor, I would like to go on record to say that I have always felt it is the job of the young generation to challenge everything that has gone before them in order to find their own way. Not everything is going to work, and some of us older critics may throw up a roadblock, but that is no reason NOT to push that envelope. Run with it if it’s what you want to do. The audience will either find you or won’t – but that’s up to them.
Then we’re back with a more traditional approach with My Faith Has Been Broken. Now that’s a blues title and it’s one you’ll be hearing on the show from time to time. We’ve all been there, when the blues pile up so high you feel like there’s no way to go and everything you hold dear crumbles away. Wilson shows a lot of promise with this song.
After that is Cool Runnin’, more of a soft rock driving song than a blues tune, but it’s kind of catchy and I’ll be putting it on my driving list. Wilson’s guitar has a nice almost Santana feel. Next time I head to California to see my friends Casino Kevin and Left Coast Tracy, I’ll be listening to this tune.
Home is another one that has more soft rock in it than blues, but when music is written from the heart it has plenty of appeal. The sentiment is nice, the sound is good – kind of a ‘90’s college rock vibe, but that’s all part of Wilson’s pedigree. Then comes a swinging number that will be playing on Time For The Blues very soon, Black Coffee At Sunrise. Man this song is fun, and Amrik Sandhu’s drums rock. You’ll hit repeat on this one several times. Kind of rockabilly, early Sun feel and you’ll dig this one a lot.
Sugar Sweet has some nice guitar work but falls into that rock category. It has an interesting late night feel to it, and Wilson saves some of his best pyrotechnics for the song. He finishes the album with Never Again, a number that combines some hard guitar with soft lyrics that underscores the unique feel to the CD.
You can’t deny Wilson or his band have a good sound and strong talent. They push envelopes and create their own space. Not everyone is going to like their sound for whatever reason, but I found a lot to recommend in the album. Plus, I think it’s exciting to see a talent explore their world and find new ways to express their ideas.
I would check out this CD, and catch him live if you can. You can find out all sorts of things about Wilson and Blues Thunder at http://bradwilsonlive.com/main.html. Don’t let the California surf look fool you, this guy has got some serious chops.
Now Mrs. Professor is standing at the door tapping her foot and holding a rake. Something tells me I’m out the door doing yardwork for a while. Time to put fresh batteries in my Discman (yes, I still use one) and get to work.
Peace from Jordan’s Branch.
(Photo of Brad Wilson by Alex Centrella was lovingly "borrowed" from Wilson's website. If you want it removed, you'll have to come to my house and rake the leaves.)