At least one sometime Arkansas politician has played saxophone. The current governor may or may not be a musician, but has been quoted in large letters and at length to the effect that Jimmy Thackery is a treasure of that state. I’ve no idea how many people feel the same about the governor, but I do take to this CD rather better than I did to its predecessor in the man’s discography.
A web resource reference to Thackery’s music as “blue collar” can’t be improved upon. Blues-rock seems not too bad a description, though this set straddles the line between African-American and other Arkansas music which makes extensive use of electric guitar and power drumming. “Ain’t That a Lot of Love” and “I’ll Come Runnin’ Back to You” are native to song territory where you might not be surprised to find both performers who look and sound like Johnny Cash and others who resemble Sam Cooke, visually and aurally.
I wasn’t so taken with the start of the opener, which gets better as it goes on and shows some relationship to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, whose genre was on the color line when that was a thick and nasty business, except in music. “Arky Shuffle” is a good King family guitar instrumental feature. Then comes Muddy Waters’ “Rich Man’s Woman”. It’s some tribute to Thackery that he could be taken for never having heard Muddy’s recording, the one on a Chess single which really let him show off his voice, with an amazing “Ooooooh yeah, ah ha ha hmmmm.” Since Thackery gets to express his indebtedness to Muddy on the inlay, I have to say this is quite a performance. There’s none of the stoicism of Muddy’s record on this one, the guy Thackery personates is defeated. Poor guy! He seriously reinterprets the lyric, as slide guitar buzzes and stings.
“Levee Prayer” has heavy atmosphere, echoey percussion and sometimes a lone guitar sounding like a plaintive birdcry across a watery waste. The song, not surprisingly, has Katrina connections.
“Hoodoo Man Blues” and “Snatch It Back and Hold It” are definitely in a bag close to the late lamented harmonica master Junior Wells and his friend Buddy Guy, which is not surprising given their relation to these songs. Thackery isn’t the only very distinguished guitarist here. There’s a Howlin’ Wolf song with a vocal which wouldn’t shame Wolf’s current ringer, whom you may or may not know records under the name Tail Dragger. The guitar work wouldn’t have shamed the men who recorded with Wolf in Memphis 50 years and more back. There’s rather a lot of it on this track, and I am not complaining, except I might like to get up from the computer and dance. Very inventive, it is, not at all repetitive. Informal, a good jam.
The closing song—would you believe “Tell Me Goodbye”?—has subdued and plaintive singing. It’s a long time since I heard a Sam Cooke record—I never listened to many of them very attentively—but this is a country soul ballad, maybe a performance that the late Buddy Holly didn’t live to deliver. Underline the “maybe”; Holly was a bit before my time, but Jimmy Thackery is certainly going strong. And the Cate Brothers certainly do everything to bring this set off successfully.