Crystal Thomas – Now Dig This!
Side 1 – 5 Tracks 18 minutes
Side 2 – 5 Tracks 19 minutes
Following a couple of self-released recordings, singer Crystal Thomas was featured on several tracks on a recording by the Japanese band Bloodest Saxophone, entitled Texas Queens Five. And while Thomas is actually a native of the Shreveport, Louisiana area, she grew up listening to music that that originated in the Lone Star state, and for a brief period, was a member of the band backing the legendary Johnnie Taylor, based out of Dallas.
On her latest full-length album on Ediie Stout’s Dialtone Records, Thomas quickly makes it clear that she is no stranger to the blues traditions that run deep through the legacy of Texas music. Opening with a brisk shuffle on Toussaint McCall’s “I’m A Fool For You Baby,” her easy-going style marks her as a vocalist who understands that the singer’s job is to make the listener feel the heartbeat of each song, to stir the emotions with sensitive phrasing and a mastery of timing.
Thomas definitely needed to at her best, as the band backing her included the late Lucky Peterson on keyboards, Johnny Moeller from the Fabulous Thunderbirds on guitar, his brother Jason manning the drum kit, James Fenner on congas, and veteran Chuck Rainey on bass guitar. They create a percolating, funky groove for the singer’s brawny vocal on “I Don’t Worry Myself,” then slow the pace for “Take Yo’ Praise,” a love ballad with Thomas taking her time, keeping her emotions in check as she gives her good-loving man the props he deserves. Nick Connolly makes one of his appearances on the Fender Rhodes keyboard.
‘Ghost Of Myself” is another slow burner, but this time the singer gives voice to the heartache and despair of good love gone bad, pleading for relief as Moeller’s guitar answers every one of her stirring cries. Thomas played trombone in Taylor’s band, and her full, well-rounded tone on the instrument is highlighted on the “Blues Funk,” but not before Peterson goes for a wild ride on the organ, with a fleet-fingered response from Moeller on guitar.
The second side of the album brings more of the same. Thomas delivers a standout rendition of Janis Joplin’s “One Good Man” that steers clear of overwrought vocalizing in favor of an approach fraught with searing emotional intensity. The band cranks up the energy level on “No Cure For The Blues,” and Thomas responds in kind, giving voice to a woman deep in the grip of the blues, passionately pleading for relief until Peterson finally jumps in to take listeners to church.
Johnny Moeller is featured on “Can’t You See What You Doing To Me,” laying down stellar fretwork on the Albert King tune. Peterson on organ perfectly echoes the vocal, adding greater depth to the proceedings. Another highlight occurs on “The Blues Ain’t Nothing But Some Pain”. Thomas makes you feel every note, every bit of anguish with a performance that leaves no doubt as to her vocal skills.
That fact is re-enforced on the closing number, a killer vocal duet with Peterson on “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. Thomas more than holds her own with her esteemed college, their soulful give-and-take a fitting conclusion for an outstanding release.
Some singers would be intimidated working with a band of this caliber. Crystal Thomas has been singing all of her life. She may not have the name recognition yet, but she understands how to sing, a point driven home time and again on each of these ten tracks. As good as the band is, your attention will naturally gravitate to Thomas whenever she takes over. Don’t miss this highly recommended recording!
(For more on Crystal Thomas, read her interview with Blues Blast here: https://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-crystal-thomas/ )