16 songs – 42 minutes
Originally from Washington D.C., long-time Washington state resident Thayer Hambone Wilson’s fifth solo release (not including his 38 Below – Live At Sandbanks DVD) is a punchy set of 16 self-written, roots-orientated, blues-infused tracks.
Roaring out of the starting blocks with the old-fashioned rock’n’roll of “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the most immediately striking aspect is Wilson’s warm but wonderfully ragged voice, which has a muscular, emotional depth to it. He is also a first class guitar player, as evidenced by the weeping slide guitar of “Sweet Virginia”, the Johnny Winter-inspired slashing bottleneck guitar of “Good Grief” or the outstanding Roy Buchanan-influenced solos of “Cheating and Lying” or “MurderMe.”
Wilson uses a wide variety of musicians on this self-titled release. Particular highlights include Benson Hardesty’s mournful cello on the acoustic “Tumble Weed” and John Mclung’s wailing pedal steel on “Wasting Time”. The majority of the backing comes from Dr Jimmy on bass; Adam Drake, Kenny Gradney on bass; Dave Stone on organ; Amanda Grace Wilkins on backing vocals; and Ricky Wilkins or Willie Maccalder on piano. The multi-talented Chad Wilson adds bass, mandolin and trombone, with saxophone and trumpet contributed by Greg Thomas and Paul Litteral respectively. Thomas’s roaring solo on “Virginia Creeper” is almost worth the price of admission by itself.
Despite the obvious musical talents of the players, however, there is no room for over-playing on Thayer Hambone Wilson. Rather, this release has echoes of an earlier age. Of the 16 songs, only five last longer than three minutes and four clock in at less than two minutes. This is how the early rock’n’roll albums sounded and it is refreshing to hear someone in today’s day and age resisting the urge to play long solos in every song.
Wilson is a fine songwriter, adroitly using both acoustic and electric instruments, who knowingly mines the traditional lyrical seams of modern Americana, from the joys of music in “Born To Rock” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”, the central role of geography and geographical features in American mythology (“Sweet Virginia” and the CCR-esque “Run To The River”), and traditional matters of the heart in the likes of “Torn, Twisted and Blue”.
What lets this album down, however, is the overall production, which is credited to Wilson and Adam Drake. There is a compressed muddiness to the sound in every song, without clear differentiation between instruments, so the end result sounds like a rough demo rather than a professional album. Given the wide availability today of first class recording devices, there is no excuse for this and it makes no sense to release an album that fails to take full advantage of them.
As a result, Hambone Thayer Wilson might well be a pleasant reminder of a great gig, and one can imagine a lot of people purchasing it for this reason, but it struggles to stand on its own merits. This is a shame, because Wilson is clearly a talented individual with a lot to offer. He is definitely worth keeping an eye on, however, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.