Black Top Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/18/1998
I have heard the future of the blues... and his name is Chris Thomas King.
The son of bluesman Tabby Thomas (who is living what he sings as you read this - his blues club is about to be razed to make room for a highway), King has taken all the lessons he learned about the blues while sitting at the feet of some of the genre's masters and created his own groove. The result is heard on his latest album, Red Mud, which could be one of the best traditional blues albums I've ever heard.
I don't know how many other musicians would try playing the blues on a classical guitar, but King gladly steps up to the challenge - and aces it. The most powerful use of the classical guitar is heard on King's rendition of Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen" - a version on which King handles all the musical chores, including harmonica and talkbox. I've always said the talkbox is an effective device when used in moderation, and King's example here is probably the best use I've seen the device put to. (Besides, how many people would have expected to hear such a device used, especially on an acoustic blues album?)
King is full of surprises on Red Mud, all of them pleasant. With originals like "If It Ain't One Thang, It's Two," "I'm On Fire" and the title track, King proves himself to be a very mature songwriter for such a young man (28). King also proves to be proficient at whatever instrument he touches, from dobro and National steel guitar to acoustic bass to string samples and drums. (The only other "regular" musician who appears with any regularity is drummer Darryl White.)
Wait... that's not completely true. King also brings in his dear old dad to contribute two vocal lines. The songs that Tabby Thomas appears on, "Hoodoo Party" and "Bus Station Blues," are reminiscent of the old-style blues that King grew up hearing, and are welcome additions to this collection.
Drawbacks? Honestly, I can't find a single one on Red Mud or with King's performance. He's a fine vocalist and a talented musician/songwriter who has created possibly one of the most unforgettable blues albums in recent years. If King's talents only continue to be honed and refined, he will most likely become one of the modern-day statesmen for a genre that loses far too many elders each year. If this album isn't revered as a classic in 30 years, it will only be because King himself has topped it. One of the best albums I've listened to all year.