RECAP 2017: Fabulous T-Bird Leader Captures the Classic Blues Sound on Phenomenal Album

Icon Fetch is revisiting some of our favorite albums of 2017

Kim Wilson – Blues & Boogie Vol. 1 (Severn)

Kim Wilson has been doing things for a long time, both as the frontman for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and solo, but he’s just released one of the finest albums of his entire career in Blues & Boogie Vol. 1.  The album is a tribute to the blues legends that Wilson cut his teeth on, like Little Walter, Elmore James and Jimmy Reed.

But, what sets this album apart from the numerous “tributes” that have come before, is the sound.  Great blues records are rough around the edges, and contain a rawness that was mostly achieved on primitive recording equipment.  Not sure how he does it, but Wilson completely captures that dirty vibe.  In fact, it’s so authentic, you’ll have a hard time telling these new recordings apart from their originals.  Wilson has also sprinkled in several originals that sound right at home with this hallowed material.The first clue that things are going to be “old school” is in the word “mono” placed near the top right corner of the album cover.

The disc leads with “Bonus Boogie,” a jumped-up Wilson instrumental, complete with an amped-up blues harp and distorted electric guitar.  The entire track has a light echo, sounding straight out of the Chess studios circa 1956.

That’s followed by the horn-infused Elmore James’ shuffle “No Love in My Heart.” “Ninety Nine” is very close to the Sonny Boy Williamson original, with Wilson in fine voice.  “Worried Life Blues” even manages to capture the crappy, muffled drum sound that was the signature of so many early blues records.  There’s just enough diversity here to keep things moving throughout.  Little Walter’s “Teenage Beat” will get your toe tapping, and Sonny Boy’s “From the Bottom” is good fun, while you’d swear that “Searched All Over” is an Elmore James outtake instead of a Wilson original.

This all culminates with the stellar, chills-down-your-spine take of Little Walter’s “Blue and Lonesome,” complete with stinging guitar courtesy of Big Jon Atkinson and a pleading vocal from Wilson.

It’s interesting to Google these tracks and compare them to the originals.  It gives you an even deeper appreciation for the care that went into the recording of this album.

This is one of the few tribute albums that manages to elicit the same goosebumps that you get from the classic recordings that it’s emulating.  Blues & Boogie vol. 1 proves that Kim Wilson is one of the finest living blues musicians.  And the love that went into this album makes it a grand slam success.  —Tony Peters