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The Racky Thomas Band - Hard Travelin’

Self Release

13 songs; 60:01 minutes; Splendid

Styles: Chicago Blues, West Coast, Traditional and Contemporary Blues

What should a blues band do? At least two differing opinions exist:

(1) A Blues band should play the traditional Blues by “conjuring up ghosts of Blues past.” “It’s becoming a lost art that needs to be kept alive.” Maintain a “deep respect and appreciation for Blues forefathers.” “Carry the torch for the Blues, because many bands have chosen to abandon ship.”

(2) “...artists [need] their own sound and style, well connected to Blues but not repeating what’s already been done. This is a tough row to hoe for artists. The pressure is often to do familiar songs and re-create familiar sounds. But Muddy Waters didn’t become famous by copying Son House and Robert Johnson. B.B. [King] didn’t become famous trying to copy T-Bone Walker. You’ll never beat Muddy at being Muddy. I can never understand why I get so many demos of Muddy and Robert Johnson songs. Do you really think you can bring something new to those and make me forget the originals?”

Opinion number 1 is paraphrased and quoted from the website and promo page of the Racky Thomas Band, whose CD, “Hard Travelin,’” I am reviewing this week.

Opinion number 2 is from Bruce Iglauer, founder and president of Alligator Records, from an interview with Terry Lape published in last week’s February 19 issue of Blues Blast.

First, I read the interview, and then I played the traditional Blues of Racky Thomas. I felt mixed emotions and pulled in both directions. Is the CD worthless? Or, is Iglauer wrong?

Obvious Conclusions:
(A) The Racky Thomas Band will never be on the Alligator label.
(B) Racky Thomas probably doesn’t give a damn.
(C) There are more reasons for incurring the cost of releasing a CD than just trying to get on a big record label. For example, fans at live shows always ask if the band has any CDs for sale.
(D) Opinion 2 will result in CDs that are not Blues. They will be called “Blues based” or “Roots music,” yet they will be sent to Blues media to be reviewed and aired on Blues radio.
(E) Opinion 1 will cause some to argue that the Blues have become petrified and stale.

My personal conclusion: surely there is room for both. Presuming a fan can afford to purchase two CDs instead of just one, he /she can choose what to play given their mood. I am so much of a music lover that I will enjoy a traditional Blues romp, but I can also enjoy something new with perhaps a Rock edge.

The Racky Thomas Band is from Boston, Massachusetts but plays the blues as though they came right out of post-war Chicago or the Mississippi Delta. “Hard Travelin’” is a set of solid, purist-pleasing Blues. There may not be any new ground broken here, but at least, it is not music pretending to be Blues or hoping to come in under the Blues umbrella. Their fourth CD since 1995 contains seven originals by Thomas and six covered artists including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Rogers.

The value of the CD is enhanced by top notch artistry, especially from guitarist Nick Adams and leader Thomas on harp and vocals. Bringing deft studio work, Scott and John Aruda add trumpet and tenor sax respectively while Matt McCabe plays piano and Michael Avery and Brad Hallen propel the rhythm on respective drums and bass.

Attention grabbing tunes: Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues” with standout Thomas vocals and piano work by McCabe, up tempo dancers “Travelin’ Blues” and “”Ride With Your Daddy Tonight,” and next Saturday night’s WKCC radio show opener, the instrumental, “Racketeering.”

“Hard Travelin’” is an easy choice for a purchase when you are in the mood for real-deal Blues performed by accomplished musicians who care about preserving traditions, even in their new original songs.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL

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