Yep, those Fabulous Thunderbirds. Whether you’re a patron of the blues, or you just listened to enough FM rock in the ’80s that you instinctively shudder every time someone spells “ough” as “uff,” I’m betting you long ago stopped taking this band seriously (or even forgot they were still around). After Jimmie Vaughan left the band circa 1990, the Thunderbirds became really nothing more than a backing group for vocalist Kim Wilson â€” in fact, 1997’s High Water, credited to “The Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Kim Wilson,” is actually a Wilson solo album recorded with Steve Jordan and Danny Kortchmar. Apparently, though the Fabulous Thunderbirds name has had zero commercial importance since the late ’80s, it still carries more weight than Wilson can bear on his own.
So I wasn’t expecting much from this. The Thunderbirds, even at their absolute peak, were never capable of more than periodic flashes of greatness (and I use the term loosely); at best, they were a solid group of musicians who played tasteful, honest jump blues. At their worst â€” i.e. their most commercially successful â€” they were practitioners of the corniest, most insulting mainstream blues music of the mid-to-late ’80s. Kim Wilson is a decent vocalist and a talented harp player, but at heart, he seems to have the instincts of a carnival barker, and that, in part, has prevented the band from enjoying the same kind of cachet as, say, Roomful of Blues.
Which makes me wonder: Who would win in a fistfight, Kim Wilson or Sugar Ray Norcia?
I digress. The bottom line is, Painted On is surprisingly good. This sounds like damning with faint praise, but I think it might actually be the best jump blues record I’ve heard all year. I don’t know if it’s just the shock of the Thunderbirds actually sounding like a band again, or if the album is actually that solid, but I’m digging on it. Check out the title track (download) and “Got to Get Out” (download).