[15 August 2007]
As co-founder of the Nighthawks, Jimmy Thackery released over 20 records, even as that band gained a reputation for being untiring road warriors. That grind eventually led Thackery to leave the Nighthawks, but it hasn’t kept him from releasing over a dozen more albums. Suffice it to say that he’s a workhorse, playing no-nonsense, straight-ahead blues night after night for over 30 years. He’s been leading his current trio, the Drivers, since 1991. So it’s no surprise that, with all that work and all those miles under his belt, Thackery exhibits little patience for flash-in-the-pan celebrity or people who bask in undeserved rewards. Two of Solid Ice‘s early tracks, “Hit the Big Time” and “Fifteen Minutes”, pull few punches in criticizing social climbers, backstabbers and the culture of fame.
However, those cuts are maybe the record’s least satisfying moments. On each, Thackery opts for straightforward rock arrangements, even going so far as to tinker with what sounds like a slowed-down AC/DC riff on “Fifteen Minutes”. Also, with their emphasis on getting a point across, there’s little of the tasty guitar playing that earned Thackery his reputation. Consequently, his vocals, which have never been the strongest in the blues world, are even more exposed than normal. Despite the admirable intent, those songs come off as workmanlike.
Thankfully, Thackery rights the ship in short order, kicking into the Texas shuffle of “Hobart’s Blues” and showing some real guitar fire as the song lopes along at a comfortable pace. “Daze in May” is a pleasant Tex-Mex flavored instrumental that also lets Thackery stretch out. In fact, Solid Ice‘s instrumentals, such as the Wes Montgomery-influenced title track, the twangy “Blue Tears Reprise” and a take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows”, are the strongest songs on the record. And that’s not another knock on Thackery’s vocals; it’s only to say that his guitar playing is well-suited to filling the spaces that vocals would normally occupy, and that he really takes the time to see where his playing will lead him.
The relaxed nature of much of Solid Ice probably stems from Thackery’s newly adopted approach of spending time with a four-track recorder, working on ideas for songs as they come to him. According to the liner notes, it’s a discipline he picked up after heading to Nashville to record 2005’s Healin’ Ground. Plus, he’s proven year after year that he can shred with the best of them, so why not ease off a little and explore what some instrumentals and subtly different styles can offer?
So it’s not overly troubling that some of Solid Ice‘s less bluesy moments don’t completely hit the mark. Despite the fact that Thackery can play pretty much anything, he’s best when he stays comfortably couched in the blues, and he gives us plenty of that here. It’s just a nice, accommodating, comfortable foundation for him to explore elements such as swing or jazz. After so many years playing music, though, it’s impressive that he still wants to color outside the lines a little bit.