Jimmy Thackery: Healin' Ground

Robert R. Calder

The man needs no subtlety, a blues singer or guitarist who could pass visually for a country singer and does play Soulabilly and R&Babilly too.

Jimmy Thackery

Healin' Ground

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-05-30
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The opening track on this is a corker, if you relish an absence of taste and subtlety which nonetheless doesn't enter the realm of the deeply offensive. There is something in the song about a splendid "package" -- and the high quality of that package's wrappings -- in a song which plainly sets little store by itself, or in its singing. The only thing which will access the object of the desires expressed, the "package", so the delectably crass lyric asserts, is the mastery of guitar displayed elsewhere on the track.

The central performer is shown on the booklet brandishing a guitar. Other shots in the booklet are of apparently the same guitar, but after it has been broken, the neck hocked out of its nest in the body. There is no word as to whether this image represents a sequel in which the persona of the opening song discovered that not even his command of the guitar would avail him of that wrapped object of desire. Too hurt by rejection to perform, did he behead his axe? Or is this a reference to having heard other performers so overpaid they could ruin gear poor youngsters might have learned on?

Jimmy Thackery is a very able blues guitarist, for all that the music here veers between Southside Chicago and the outer non-mawkish aisles of the Country Music Hall of Fame. "Fender Bender" is a sort of "guitar instrumental" which used to be produced featuring either the rock 'n' roll band normally fronted by a star singer, but without him; or a guitarist who couldn't sing; or as here a singer-guitarist resting his vocal chords. Jimmy Thackery has presumably heard Eric Clapton, who came on the scene rather later than the preceding sub-genre of "guitar instrumental". Perhaps he's something of an influence on the sort of Heavymetalabilly title which follows a "Healin' Ground" which does recall Cream.

Mark Stutso takes over the singing for a couple of titles, "Devil's Toolbox" being not the blues the title might make one hope for but a sort of between-Otises item, the Otises in question being Redding and Rush. Stutso also sings on "Weaker Than You Know", which after beginning in a sort of Soulabilly manner gets decidedly hotter and much better, with the territory initially held by something like Hammond organ successfully stormed by pounding piano and a blues band worthy of Buddy Guy when he was half his present age.

Jimmy Reed sang "I'm Goin' Upside Your Head" to a better lyric than Thackery's co-composed "Upside of Lonely" here, but with no piano in the band and some maybe slightly cowboyish guitar -- and Jimmy Hall's harmonica coming in later -- this does echo Jimmy Reed, and maybe even more his Lousiana-based contemporary Jimmy Anderson.

This CD may be too much a display of different abilities on the leader's part to be the best CD he could put together. After a John Lee Hooker boogie rhythm beginning -- such as other people played on recordings from Hooker's last years -- the unmistakeable influence on the instrumental "Kickin' Chicken" is T-Bone Walker, or a sort of 1940s pre-bop jazz electric guitar.

Blues is probably what Thackery does best, and even if he does the other things for gig audiences it's his best rather than something representative that the buyer might really want. After an exercise in soul/R&B and an exploration of what a blues band with a wailing organist can do with Henry Mancini's "A Shot in the Dark" -- theme music of the film which first turned Peter Sellers into Inspector Clouseau -- the blues band shows its paces on "Can't Lose What You Never Had" with Thackery very good on slide guitar if vocally slightly misguided in attempting to emulate Muddy Waters, whose song this was. And is. The moral of that song is surely at odds with the picture on the back liner of Thackery holding a broken guitar, and the speculation with which the present review began.

I'm sure the attempt was at variety, but the result seems a somewhat mixed bag: the bag in question being a different sort of package to that mentioned in the opening track, but with general appeal to an audience who would probably have appreciated the inclusion of one of J.B. Hutto's last songs. That short-lived blues master's career began with attacks on Eisenhower and the Korean War, but just before his tragic untimely death he was singing about Vietnam. Amen.


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