Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CD Review: The Bluesmasters featuring Mickey Thomas

The Bluesmasters featuring Mickey Thomas
(Direct Music Distribution)
By Steve "Fly" Klein

The eleven song CD, The Bluesmasters featuring Mickey Thomas was released today. Tim Tucker (guitarist and producer) has truly assembled a wealth of top players. Tucker and pianist Sean Benjamin (who guests on two tracks of this CD) started The Bluesmasters in 2007 utilizing their past bandmates and contacts throughout the blues world.

First let's review the band:

Tim Tucker's guitar playing shows he's mastered every blues lick, every nuance, and sizzling solo in the great American Blues catalog.

Anysley Dunbar (drums) may be best known for playing in Journey and Jefferson Starship, but few realize he was in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Peter Green and John McVie and was part of the first Jeff Beck Group (frustrated that the band was not playing a strict enough blues set for his taste, he left after their seminal record Truth).

Danny Miranda (bass) has been playing in Blue Oster Cult since 1995 and joined Queen + Paul Rodgers for their album and the 2005 and 2006 tours.

Ric Ulsky (Hammond B3 organ) is a big time keyboardist in bands such as The City Zu and Smokin' Guns and has put in his time touring with such as The Turtles, Spanky & Our Gang, Chuck Berry, and The Coasters to name a few.

Doug Lynn (harmonica) is a famous harp player in both the Omaha and Seattle areas and knew Sean Benjamin back in his days with the Benjamin's band in the late 70s.

And finally, Mickey Thomas (vocals) has made his name as lead singer for Jefferson Starship, but more than a few should remember his turn as the vocalist for the Elvin Bishop Group and their hit "Fooled Around And Fell In Love". Just in case you've forgotten, they've included the hit on this CD.

The CD sets the bar high with the first cut "Cherry Red". Guest musician Sean Benjamin pounds out the blues on the piano while Thomas pushes his vocal chords into a soulful shout. Doug Lynn's harp excellent work rounds out the song.

"Rock Me Baby" sends the proceedings into passing gear with nice Chicago-style harp work by Lynn. While Thomas does a great job of selling the song, I hear echos of the Jeff Beck-era Rod Steward in his voice. While "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" is a bluesed up version that showcases Thomas' nice vocal reinterpretation of the classic and some solid drumming by Dunbar. And be sure to listen for Ric Ulsky's excellent organ work on the Etta James gospel-tinged classic, "I'd Rather Go Blind". Adding guitar to "Get Your Business Straight" and "Can't Get No Grindin'" (plus sharing lead vocals) is the Mississippi-born Magic Slim. These songs loosen up the band a bit and Magic Slim cuts through with his tough guitar tone.

I'd say that Willie Dixon's "Third Degree" and Elmore James' "Over Yonder Wall" are my favorites on the CD. Dunbar and Miranda lay down a nice groove to set the table on "Third Degree", while Tucker's smoky guitar work and Ulsky's B3 set the song on fire. "Over Yoner Wall" features a great performance by the whole band led down the path by Thomas' vocal and Tucker's blistering guitar.

I enjoyed this CD. The musicianship is excellent and the song choice is right on target. On the other side of the coin, the performance is a little too polished; some of the songs seem to be missing a certain edge. I would love to see these guys live, because I believe that is where the magic will be heard.