Devin B Thompson – Tales Of The Soul
Severn Records – 2020
11 tracks; 55 minutes
Raised in Joliet, just outside Chicago, Devin B Thompson started singing in church and has a super smooth vocal style. He started playing trumpet in his older brother’s band but the biggest influence on him was a family friend, Willie Newsome, who had recorded under the name Frankie Newsome. Devin was unaware that his Dad’s buddy was a singer until he asked who the singer was on an old 45! Looking into possibilities for recording Newsome, Devin was in touch with Tad Robinson who naturally connected with his own label, David Earl’s Severn Records. An initial session at Severn’s Maryland studio gave positive results but further recording had to be abandoned when Newsome became ill with cancer, succumbing to the dreadful disease in 2019. David Earl had noted the younger man’s vocals, suggested they might work together and this album is the result.
The Severn house band of Kevin Anker (piano), Benjie Porecki (organ), Johnny Moeller (guitar), Steve Gomes (bass) and Robb Stupka (drums) is present and correct, with Mark Merella adding percussion and a four-man horn section of Kenny Rittenhouse and Joe Donegan on trumpets, Antonia Orta on sax and Bill Holmes on trombone; guitarist Robben Ford sits in on two tunes and Jimmy Earl replaces Steve on bass on one cut. The backing vocals are by Devin, Caleb Green, Christal Rheams and Kennedy Thompson. There are eight originals written by Devin with some assistance on three songs from Hiram J Grigsby Jr, Kevin Anker and David Earl. The album was produced by Devin, David and Kevin.
The album opens with three covers, the sources of which neatly define the overall direction of the disc. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s “Love To See You Smile” is a great opener, “I’m Gonna Cry A River” was a Little Milton single on Stax and Joe Simon hit with the Gamble and Huff penned “Something You Can Do Today”. Devin’s light tenor delivers a delightful version of the much-loved Bobby Bland tune, “River” is enhanced by Robben Ford’s contribution and the Joe Simon song provides something of a template for the deep soul ballads that dominate the album.
The originals begin with a gently funky “Back Together”, one of two songs written by Devin and Hiram, their second contribution being “Get Home Tonight” in which Devin is keen to leave work and get back to his lady. There is plenty of percussion, wah-wah washes and swirling organ on both tracks, with strings on the latter and flute flourishes on the former. The song written by Devin, Kevin and David is “Can’t Get Over You”, a romantic ballad in which Devin is totally in thrall to his girl, whatever may occur. The other five songs are all Devin’s own work: a chugging rhythm makes “I Ain’t No Good” one of the more uptempo tunes here as Devin reflects on some of his less desirable qualities, even warning people “when you see me coming you better start to running”! “Deeper” has a good horn arrangement as Devin celebrates the depth of his love; “Read Your Mind” again features Robben’s tricky guitar figures which fit well against the slightly more uptempo rhythms as the song is driven forward by bass and percussion; piano and churchy organ lead into the gospel-soaked ballad “Time After Time” on which the backing vocals are excellent, the horns sitting this one out. The usual topic of love and relationships is dropped for the final track “Tell Me” on which Devin has plenty to say about race relations in the light of the Black Lives Matter campaign: “Tell me, what it is about my skin you don’t like? Tell me, what would you do if you watched people dying who looked like you do?”. Johnny catches the mood with an aggressive wah-wah solo.
On some of the photos on the album Devin looks like Isaac Hayes on Black Moses but I hear more elements of Stevie Wonder and George Benson in his vocals. It would have been good to hear Devin handle a few more uptempo tunes but this is still a solid debut – an enjoyable album of contemporary soul-blues.