Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Billy Thompson - A Better Man

Is there anything more fun than discovering a 20 dollar bill inside an old jacket? Well, actually there are, but since this is a semi family friendly blog, we’ll just no – finding money is the coolest thing ever. In fact if any of you want to drop by the Juke Joint one night and drop a few twenties on me, I would be grateful. I lost a bundle on the Cubs this year…

While I didn’t find any money recently, I did find an old briefcase I thought I had lost forever. Inside, among a bunch of now dried up pens, sixteen rubber bands, and a zinger that was still surprisingly fresh was a stack of CDs Henry had entrusted me to review for the show.

And by show, I do mean Time For The Blues on WCVE Public Radio. You can find it on the internet by going here. Look around, you might find a few other things you like and want to add to your weekly listening experience.

Fortunately for me, Henry gets swamped by things at work so his mind was elsewhere, not on the missing stack of CDs. In other words, we both forgot about ‘em.

But now they are back and I’m adding them to the stack of titles already piling up on the bar.

First one out of the box is by Billy Thompson – who is living somewhere in the Mid Atlantic area, just like us. This is a guy I might be able to get to play at the Juke Joint one night, and if I do, you better be there, because this cat has a good sound.

A Better Man released by Papa Lee Records is Thompson’s latest CD, and I really like his sound. He has a resonant soulful voice and he brings more than a little gospel wickedness to his vocals. His guitar playing is sharp and here he is backed by some of the best players around.

Joining Thompson, who provides guitar, slide guitar, and harmonica to his vocals, are Tony Braunagel on drums and percussion, Mike Finnigan on piano and organ, Kenny Gradney on bass, Hutch Hutchinson on bass and upright bass, Johnny Lee Schell on guitar and vocals, Michael Leroy Peed on piano and clavinet, Lenny Castro on percussion, Niki Morrissette on vocals, and The Texicali Horns – Darrell Leonard on trumpet and Joe Sublett on saxophone.

The CD opens with the musical question, “Are You Ready” and it drives hard. The title track swings in and by now you should be hooked.

The third song, “Johnny Is A Cloud,” is an homage to one of Thompson’s friends, the artist John DeMarco. DeMarco, who passed away provided the inspiration for the song, and his painting “Final Crossroads” graces the back cover. In it, a musician contemplates his fate at the crossroads, and it is a beautiful image. If you want to see more of DeMarco’s work, visit his website.

Next up is “Noreen,” a little love song with a bouncy tune. Thompson then slows things down with the soul searing number “Born Again” punctuated by Finnigan’s organ work and a choir. He picks up the tempo with “No More Goodbyes” that gives us a man determined to get one more moment, one more night, and start all over.

Thompson really gets swinging again with “Met My Match.” Things slow down again with “Who Knew” and Thompson trades guitar licks against the Texicali Horns’ trumpet and sax. It kicks up again with “Downside Up,” once again showing more than a little gospel influence infused with some just plain good fun. He then moves into a funky rendition of “Oneness.”

We move then into a slow churning blues groove, a swampy stripped down song, “Bleed.” His next side, “As If” starts out with a couple of soaring licks but quickly segues into a solid straight forward tune. He closes out this satisfying CD with “Up In The Morning.”

Thompson has a great sound and he gets props from the Professor for being a theatre guy as well as a solid bluesman. Ain’t many of us out there with both credentials. Okay, I don’t qualify there either, but a guy can dream can’t he?

So don’t tell Henry I found the missing CDs. It’ll just be our little secret. In the meantime, check out Thompson’s website to see when he’s touring.

(Photo of Billy Thompson artfully lifted from his website. If you are the owner of this picture and want us to remove it, please notify us and we’ll whine about it, but do it anyway. Meanie.)

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