The Fabulous Thunderbirds top list of best new blues releases
Courtesy of American Showplace Music

“Wrap it up, I’ll take it!” Music fans know that line comes from “Wrap it Up,” the big crossover hit that blues band the Fabulous Thunderbirds had in the mid-’80s. The band has continued to release impressive albums ever since, and now, 30-years later, their latest effort has just hit the streets. As always, it’s a good one, and so are the other selections we’ve picked out for you here.

The Fabulous ThunderbirdsStrong like That

Fans will hear lots of familiarity as this album begins with a cover of the old Temptations tune “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” spotlighting singer Kim Wilson’s instantly-recognizable voice and harmonica playing and demonstrating how the Motown classic has always been rooted in the blues. The song also provides the album’s first taste of the guitar work of Johnny Moeller who tears it up on slide guitar, particularly on the song fade-out. The funky groove of “Don’t Burn Me” with guest guitarist Anson Funderburgh, the joyfully bouncy “Smooth” and the slinky, accusatory blues of “Where’s Your Love Been?” are standout tracks in an album packed with highlights that also includes another soul cover in the form of Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).” The set closes with “Strong Like That,” a cut written by band bassist Steve Gomes, and while the song is about one man’s personal integrity, clearly the words “strong like that” apply to everything here.

Backtrack Blues BandWay Back Home

Not unlike the aforementioned Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Backtrack Blues Band has a strong personality up front in the person of singer and harmonica player Sonny Charles, and here the Tampa Bay-based five-some takes their blues out on the water, rocking all the way to the Bahamas on opening cut “Goin’ to Eleuthera.” Like the opener, about half of the record was penned by Charles, including the innuendo-filled “Shoot My Rooster,” the amusing “Heavy Built Woman,” and on a more serious note, the got-no-money blues of “Help Me Just This Time” where Charles and guitar man Kid Royal spend the song’s mid-section dueling it out. Also included is a nice Chicago blues take on “Baby Please Don’t Go,” the blues classic popularized by Muddy Waters.

Bruce Katz BandOut From the Center

Katz plays bass on much of this album but his primary instruments are piano and the Hammond B3, and he shows off his chops from the get-go rockin’ the piano for the boogie-woogie of opening cut “Don’t Feel So Good Today” and utilizing the organ on the Allman Brothers-like groove of instrumental cut “Schnapps Man” (Gregg Allman is a big fan of Katz’s). “The Struggle Inside” has a keyboards intro that could be considered a nod to Keith Emerson but the main part of the song is a low down blues lament, “All Torn Up” tunes to a rhythm that Stevie Ray Vaughan fans will find familiar and “Think Fast” is an appropriately speedy amalgam of the blues and jazz.

Johnny NicholasFresh Air

This Austin-based singer and multi-instrumentalist (piano, guitar, and harmonica) has been around for a long time and at one time was a singer with Asleep at the Wheel. Here his Americana-tinged blues, most of which is self-penned, includes highlights like the swinging “Red Light” with steel guitar from Cindy Cashdollar, the slow and smoky “Sweet Katrina” and the blues jaunt through the South that’s represented by “Bayou Blues,” an ode to a woman of questionable virtue, and “Roll on Mississippi,” a moaning, acoustic blues.

Matthew SkollerBlues Immigrant

Set to a classic Chicago blues strut, Blues Immigrant opens with the amusing “Big Box Store Blues” where Skoller sings about a man who refuses to go to a Costco or the like, no matter how much his woman insists to the otherwise. On “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” Skoller sets a beat that, ironically, you can just imagine Old Scratch wiggling his red, pointy-tailed butt to; certainly fans will find the cut suitable for a snuggly, slower moment on the dance floor. Skoller is a harmonica player and some of his best riffs here light up “Only in the Blues,” “747” and of course “Organ Mouth,” an instrumental that also spotlights keys man Johnny Iguana.