Town Crier - REVIEWS
Released - 02/19/2013
Music News Nashville
by Janet Goodman
had a deep, fierce passion for playin’ the blues/Gen-u-ine real, sho’
nough paid his dues,” growls Robert “Top” Thomas on his debut album
with WildRoots Records, “The Town Crier.” The Florida bluesman is
singing about the
Midnight Creeper here, but he might
as well be singing about himself. This founding member of Smokehouse
has definitely put in the mileage to prove his mettle, and is pure,
unpretentious, unadulterated blues as it gets.
Thomas is a storyteller first, who takes command with his
hard-living gruff-and-no-bluff vocals and mudflats guitar licks. A
little delta, a little creole, a little rock and roll, he co-wrote
seven of the thirteen tracks offered, and with Stephen Dees at the
helm and a long list of authentic blues players backing him up, the
result is worth the listen.
Little Daisy,” written by Dees, is laid-back Mississippi drawl
music, and Victor Wainwright (amongst the bog creatures) adds his
flavor of organ and soul singing to the longest track, “Bad Seed.”
Dobro player Damon Fowler leads the acoustic drum-less drive of
12-bar blues piece “I’m a Freight Train,” and Thomas’s plaintive
sobs paint the picture of rejection on the title track. On “King
Snake Crawl” the artist tells us that up in blues heaven the greats
“are having a supernatural ball” and still haunt the music halls so
that, “The hound will be howlin’/Mule kickin’ in the stall/Got that
mojo workin’/Doin’ the king snake crawl.” Mix in raw drumming and
wailing harmonica fills, he puts us smack dab at the crossroads.
Long Island Blues Society
There’s a time and
there’s a place and when you’re there, you know. Well, Top knows it
and he gives it to you with good deep fried Southern boogie blues
that’s chunky, fat and filled with tasty bits of gator tail and
possum maw. Florida swamp blues isn’t all that different from guys
like Watermelon Slim and the reverberations of Magic Slim and John
Lee Hooker are felt throughout.
Thomas pulls the
rope, the engine kicks a few puffs of blue smoke then it’s cooking
with gas, boogie style. His righteous and butt stomping style just
makes your back 40 jump and the rock solid rhythm work of Steve Dees
(B) and Billy Dean (D) are augmented by the harp mastery of Stephen
Kampa (winner 2012 FL harmonica championship) as well as Victor
Wainwright (Piano), Damon Fowler (dobro), Brandon Santini (more
harp) and Beth McKee (squeezebox).
The opening chunk of
country feral boar fatback is “Mississippi Quickie” and its heat
goes on warm and greasy. “The Same Thing Could Happen To You” echoes
Cajun groove and swinging riddim. “Sugar Shop” swings steady and
“Daddy’s Gone” chugs down the track at high speed. Thomas’ got the
goods and his gumbo’s thick and tasty.
Rockin' Roll Call
a VenturaCountyStar.com blog
The latest from
Robert "Top" Thomas is "The Town Crier" and it's on Wild Roots
Records and the first on my best of 2013 list. This is a knock-out,
kick-ass blues album by a wailing front man with that perfect gruff
blues voice and some shredding guitar solos, reminiscent of all
those great old legends such as Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor,
Robert Johnson and like that. The first five seconds of the first
song, "Mississippi Quickie" has that beat that your feet will dig
right off according to one who knew, John Lee Hooker, who once noted
that, "Back in 1932, I invented the boogie." No bad cuts and "Lazy
Little Daisy" and "Bad Seed" (also a creepy movie) are good ones and
"Daddy's Gone" is the best one from Rufus Thomas' talented son.
by: Mark Uricheck
Robert "Top" Thomas is a familiar face to blues
fans, backing artists like Lazy Lester and Victor
Wainwright, in addition to his role as guitarist for
Delta-boogie masters Smokehouse from the 1990's. On
this, his debut solo CD, Thomas rolls around in the
trenches of dirty, bayou-boogie blues and carves out
a gritty niche with a salacious and fun set of
backed by a list of notable Florida musicians,
including Damon Fowler, Beth McKee, and Mark
Hodgson, the latter of whom Thomas also backed in
the past. Tracks like the bawdy "Mississippi
Quickie" set the tone for his off-color hi-jinks.
"Blues Grass", with its lazy, swamp-heavy rhythm and
nibbling slide work, is as tasty as anything on the
Thing Could Happen to You" is ripe for a Creole
party and features Thomas at his vocal best amid
Beth McKee's flowing accordion accompaniment.
Elsewhere, "What's the Matter Ma" is prime acoustic
blues with an addictive formula of guitar and vocal
melody syncing, while "YeeHaw Junction" is a rocking
instrumental with a duel of sorts erupting between
Stephen Kampa's harp and Thomas' guitar.
solo debut is an eclectic gumbo of Delta hooks,
Louisiana merriment, and top-notch musicianship.
Silver Michaels - Memphis TN
Think of blues meccas and you naturally think of
Memphis and Chicago, but the state of Florida has
quietly and steadily built a strong community of
blues players and fans for many years now. Nowhere
is this more evident than on the new release from
longtime Florida bluesman Robert "Top" Thomas, a
founding member of Smokehouse. Smokehouse was
certainly a legendary band regionally during their
heyday (and deserved even more), well known for
swamp blues, tight musicianship and a general "good
time to be had by all" attitude. The experience
Thomas gained in that band obviously did him a lot
of good on his (finally!) debut solo album, "The
What do you like in your blues? Good, solid guitar
playing? Strong material that leaves room for great
musicians to play? Boogie-and-soul that has you
squirming in your chair and forces you to get up and
dance? You'll find it all here and more. "The Town
Crier" shows the obvious benefits of a fine player
having been on the road and on a thousand stages;
Thomas not only shone with Smokehouse, but has
toured with the likes of Victor Wainwright, Noble
"Thin Man" Watts, Lazy Lester, Bill Wharton and
plenty more. Besides the obvious chops, what Thomas
seemed to have gained from all that experience was
the wisdom to keep the music tight... but not so
tight that you close out the heart and soul of the
blues. It's all here.
Stylistically, this album lands smack dab in the
middle of the Louisiana swamp and the Mississippi
delta, and it's a fine synthesis. Thomas' guitar
work carries a good, earthy tone to it - he's funky
as mud with plenty of ability to soar when he wants
to. Thomas offers a proper introduction to his
vision of the blues right from the opening track.
"Mississippi Quickie" is a great microcosm of the
whole attitude of this recording - tight
musicianship, a loose feel and a whole lot of fun
winding its way through the swamp and delta. Thomas'
guitar is just as I remembered it from "back in the
day" with fluid, melodic lines; he's got it when he
needs it, and is both good enough and wise enough to
neither overplay or underplay throughout. His voice
is also in stellar shape here, his trademark
semi-growl firmly embedded in both black and white
Thomas is certainly not stuck in just one rhythm or
feel on the album. He shows he can get down and
dirty, for example, with the stellar "King Snake
Crawl," a perfect vehicle for his voice and vision.
Again, good judgment is shown when the superb harp
work is allowed to be a centerpiece of this track.
You'll get a taste of Thomas' acoustic sensibilities
with the distinctly Keb Mo flavored "What's The
Matter Ma," sounding like you're sitting on a front
porch during a casual session with a friend. If a
good, slow grinding blues is to your liking, you'll
be pleased with "Lazy Little Daisy;" surprisingly,
Thomas' voice works equally as well on this grinder
as it does on the more aggressive tracks.
If you're looking for stellar musicianship that
speaks to the crest of the current wave of blues
players, you'll again have to look no further. The
core band of Thomas, Stephen Dees, Billy Dean and
Stephen Kampa is nicely augmented from guesting
shots by the likes of Victor Wainwright, Damon
Fowler, Brandon Santini, Mark Hodgson and more. The
guesting adds to the philosophy of the recording -
it truly does sound like everyone involved had a
very, very good time and enjoyed the project.
Further kudos to producer/arranger Stephen Dees. His
vast experience in many areas of the music business
serve him and Thomas well on this recording.
Arrangements are crisp and tasty, the album has a
steady flow to it without ever becoming boring and
the entire release churns, cajoles and boogies its
way into your head and ultimately to your heart and
I've had the pleasure of hearing this album multiple
times now (it rarely leaves the CD changer), and I
can honestly say I'm completely pleased and
impressed with this effort. Thomas has done his
legacy proud, but at the same time, he's taken a
giant step forward in establishing himself as a
valid and viable contemporary bluesman.
Cross Harp Chronicles - Review
by: David W. King
Florida "swamp Blues"
master, Robert "Top" Thomas, is one of the notable purveyors of a
swamp funky sound that originates from New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
The founder of the 1990s, King Snake recording artist "Smokehouse",
his sound is a gumbo of Louisiana swamp and Delta roots that
reflects his influences which includes Muddy Water, Lightnin' Slim,
Jimmy Reed and Lazy Lester.
Opening with Mississippi Quickie (track 1) a track which defies us
to sit still and not move our feet, Town Crier demonstrates that
the people of the swamp don't feel the need for speed, as the
following tracks all seem to take a much less hurried, more
deliberate pace. King Snake Crawl (Track 5) introduces us to a
serpent of the swamp; Bad Seed (track 6) opens with sounds like
those found in the deep jungles of the same after dark.
Whether joined by such luminaries as Victor Wainwright who does a
sterling job on organ, , joined by Juan Perez on Congas on Bad Seed
(track 6), or Damon Fowler I'm a Freight Train (track 10); Brandon
Santini on harmonica on Blues Grass (track 2) or Daddy's Gone (track
11), or the Wildroots Choir on It Ain't Easy (track 13) Thomas is in
good company, and all that company makes this release come alive
with a sound and celebration of that swamp experience.
If the chilly winds of the
northern US has chilled you to the bone, and you would like a
reprieve from the snow and ice, this is one train that is picking
up passengers and it's south-bound. With thirteen tracks, this trip
assures more than a Mississippi quickie. And this is the ticket.
Barn Owl Blues
by: Eric Campfens
This week I found this album by Robert 'Top'
Thomas on my doormat. A bluesman with a reputable career. He played
with people like Lazy Lester, Victor Wainwright and Bill 'The Sauce
Boss' Wharton to name just a few and he was member of Smokehouse,
with which he released four highly praised CDs. And now has gone
solo and his debut album "The Town Crier" is in the shops.
With the assistance of bassist Stephen Dees,
drummer Billy Dean and harmonica player Stephen Kampa and further
support by Damon Fowler on dobro, Victor Wainwright on keys, Brandon
Santini on harmonica and Beth McKee on accordion; Thomas presents a
truly fine album. Twelve out of thirteen songs are originals.
With the opener "Mississippi Quickie" it is
immediately clear what we are dealing with: an up-tempo song highly
influenced by Swamp Blues. And Swamp Blues is exactly what we get to
hear on the rest of the album. Nice and smooth, typical gnawing
vocals, great guitar lines and beautifully supported by harmonica
It turned out to be a great album without a
single weak spot. Highlights for me are the eerie sounding "Bad
Seed", the acoustic "What's The Matter Ma?", the train boogie
"Daddy's Gone" and the deep Blues of "King Snake Crawl".
Proof that real blues is not dead. Robert
'Top' Thomas knows how to mix a piece of Mississippi with old school
Florida Swamp Blues. Fans of real down home Blues can buy this album
without taking any risk; you won't be disappointed.
Friday Blues Fix
Robert "Top" Thomas - The Town Crier (WildRoots): If you're a
longtime blues fan, dating at least back to the early 90's, you may
be familiar with a Florida-based band called Smokehouse. Smokehouse
recorded for the late, much lamented Kingsnake Records. Thomas was
one of Smokehouse's founding members and also one of the driving
forces behind the band's "Florida Swamp Blues" sound that mixed
Excello-styled Louisiana blues with the Mississippi Delta blues.
Yes, it was a potent mix. This is Thomas' debut release as a solo
act and it continues the Smokehouse tradition with some of the
sweatiest, swampiest grooves this side of Lazy Lester, whose classic
tune, "The Same Thing Could Happen To You," gets a remodel job, with
the added attraction of Swamp Sista (and FBF friend) Beth McKee's
accordion thrown into the mix. Thomas' guitar work is super and his
vocals are a perfect mix of swamp drawl and delta growl, with a
little bit of country thrown in for good measure. Check out Thomas'
"Lazy Miss Daisy"
video and you'll get a good idea of what's so much
fun about this disc.
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society
If you like your blues music perfectly
seasoned with just the right mixture of top notch ingredients, then
grab yourself a heaping helping of “The Town Crier,” the new
release by Robert ‘Top’ Thomas.
“The Town Crier,” starts out with
“Mississippi Quickie.” This groove is similar to one from that
little band from Texas who also has top in their name. But don’t be
fooled folks. It’s just Thomas offering some southern hospitality on
his debut release on the Wild Roots Records label.
“Blues Grass,” follows next with a little help from good friend
Brandon Santini who adds some great harp work on this slow and
mellow tune. Thomas does his part with a perfectly placed guitar
solo. The guitarist is a veteran player with several years of
performing in his resume.
Thomas and band pick up the tempo with
the swinging sounds of “The Same Thing Could Happen to You.” This
number is a hot and snappy tune with special guest Beth McKee
putting down some nice accordion licks. I especially like the beat
that drummer Billy Dean is putting down too.
On “Lazy Little Daisy,” Thomas gives us
a hint of his slide guitar side on yet another tune with an easy
going feel to it. This one in particular has a message directed
towards someone close who might need to change their ways.
A native of New Smyrna Beach, Florida,
Thomas cites the names of Muddy Waters, Lazy Lester, Jimmy Reed and
other great Bluesmen in helping him find the direction and sound for
his music. Add in the fact that Robert ‘Top’ Thomas is directly
related to the late and great Rufus Thomas and one should easily be
able to figure out where his passion to perform comes from.
“King Snake Crawl,” is just plain down
and dirty and the fifth song on this nicely packed release. Like
many of the tunes on “The Town Crier,” it features some great guitar
and vocal work. However, the key to this title in my opinion is the
way Thomas and fellow band members set the pace for an interesting
and revealing story.
Thomas is no newcomer to the blues
circuit. In fact he is credited with being a founding member of a
band called “SmokeHouse.” It’s here Thomas cut his teeth on several
recordings that helped develop the genre dear to his heart as in
For a change of pace Thomas and band
let harmonica master Stephen Kampa take the lead in a nice
instrumental called “YeeHaw Junction.” This is the perfect tune to
get you out of your chair and on the floor kicking your heels up.
Victor Wainwright makes his presence
felt as a special guest on this release as well. On “Bad Seed,” he
takes his turn on vocals and adds a nice sounding organ. Fellow
Floridian Damon Fowler gets in the act also and plays Dobro on “I’m
A Freight Train.”
On the release’s title track, “The Town
Crier,” it‘s Thomas who once again takes control and sets the pace
for another up tempo and hand clapping tune adding his own
outstanding guitar work.
I especially like “It Aint Easy.” This
gospel flavored tune is full of energy and inspiration. Like most of
the other titles on this release it features some great guitar and
vocal work and is the perfect finish to a nicely produced product.
As mentioned earlier “The Town Crier,”
is the first release for Thomas on Wild Roots Records. Judging from
what I’ve heard the name Robert ‘Top’ Thomas will become standard
fare. In the meantime though I suggest you grab yourself a nice
comfy chair and cool drink and let this music take you away.
Bman's Blues Report
just received a new release, The Town Crier, by Robert
'Top' Thomas and it rocks. Opening with Mississippi
Quickie, a play on La Grange, Thomas conjures up a cool
story and some real nice guitar lead over the famous guitar riff....
"a how how how how". Blues Grass has more of a
spoken sung lyric along the lines of Elvin Bishop. Victor Wainwright
adds some nice piano on this track and Thomas slides a nice riff as
well. The Same Thing Could Happen To You has a bit of
that Louisiana sound with Beth McKee on accordion. Lazy Little
Daisey is another track with a "Bishop" flavor. It's a lazy
kind of blues with Stephen Kampa on harp and some cool slide work
from Thomas. King Snake Crawl has a traditional
Chicago style to it with a nice warm sound. Mark Hodgson adds cool
harp work to strong vocals by Thomas who plays stripped down guitar
riffs on this track and Billy Dean carries the bottom on drums.
Bad Seed has a a more commercial back beat sound
featuring Victor Wainwright on vocal and organ. It has a strong
melody and a clean hook. Thomas lays out likely the best guitar solo
of the recording on this track. What's The Matter Ma?
is a more down home acoustic number along the lines of JJ Cale and
also features Kampa on harp. Sugar Shop is a boogie
track with a great piano intro and again rowdy vocals which are well
paired with the rhythm section. Wainwright plays some particularly
cool riffs on this track and Thomas lays down some nice swing blues
guitar riffs of his own. YeeHaw Junction is a
countrified 12 bar blues instrumental with cool solos all round.
This track also features Patricia Ann Dees on tenor sax. I'm A
Freight Train is a a cool acoustic blues featuring vocal by
Thomas, Damon Fowler on dobro and Kampa on harp. Daddy's Gone
is my favorite track on the release. Written by bass and guitar
player Stephen Dees, this has a a blues feel but the timing and pace
of a rural country track. Brandon Santini adds harp to this track
and Thomas's vocals are perfect for this track. Title track,
The Town Crier, is another blues shouter with a solid 12 bar
base. Dees is back on sax on this track and Jeffrey Willey play some
real nice harp but the hot guitar riffs on this track take the cake.
The final track, It Ain't Easy, is a cool shuffle
track with heavy brushes on drums and just lead guitar and vocal.
The WildRoots Choir (the entire band) adds backing vocal in a
Delaney and Bonnie like revival finish.
If you were a blues fan
in the 90’s, you may have been familiar with a Florida band called
Smokehouse. The band recorded for King Snake Records and more or
less developed the “Florida Swamp Blues” sound. Their 1995
recording, Cadillac in the Swamp, was recognized as one of the best
releases of that year, due to its updated interpretation of swamp
blues. One of the founding members of Smokehouse was
singer/guitarist Robert “Top” Thomas, who has worked with such
notables as Lazy Lester, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Bill Wharton, and
Thomas recently released his debut recording, The Town Crier, on the
WildRoots label, which mixes the steamy swamp blues of Louisiana
with the blues of the Mississippi Delta. Joining in on this
release are the WildRoots rhythm section (Stephen Dees –
bass/producer, Billy Dean (drums), and Stephen Kampa (harmonica).
They are joined by guest stars Wainwright, Beth McKee, Damon Fowler,
Juan Perez, Patricia Ann Dees, Jeffrey Willey, Mark Hodgson, and
Thomas, Dees, and Wainwright wrote or co-wrote a dozen of the
thirteen tracks on The Town Crier. The lone cover is a great one, a
reworking of the Lazy Lester classic, “The Same Thing Could Happen
To You,” which adds Beth McKee’s accordion to the mix and makes a
good track a great one. The highlights include the manic opener,
“Mississippi Quickie,” the offbeat slow blues, “Lazy Little Daisy,”
which sounds like an Elvin Bishop track, the swampy “King Snake
Crawl,” and the ominous “Bad Seed,” which features Wainwright on
Thomas steps out of the swamp for a couple of tracks as well.
“What’s The Matter Ma” is an acoustic number, and “Sugar Shop” has a
bit of a Gulf Coast R&B feel to it. “I’m A Freight Train,” which
features Fowler on dobro, has roots in the Mississippi Delta, and
the closer, “It Ain’t Easy,” is a upbeat gospel number with Thomas
backed by the “WildRoots Choir” (Wainwright, McKee, Patricia Ann and
Stephen Dees, Nick Black, and Hodgson).
Thomas’ wide-ranging fretwork is worth the price of the disc, and
his vocals are a mix of the Delta and the swamp with country
seasoning, similar to Lazy Lester and Watermelon Slim. The Town
Crier is an entertaining album from start to finish, particularly
for those who love the glory days of Excello Records, where this
disc would have been a perfect fit.
Blinded By Sound
As a bluesman, Robert ‘Top’ Thomas has a solid background and
impressive credentials. He’s been grinding out swamp-blues in his
native Florida for years, touring and recording with the likes of
Noble ‘Thin Man’ Watts, Lazy Lester, and Bill ‘Sauce Boss’ Wharton
in addition to helping found SmokeHouse, a band that helped define
the swampy sound mixed with hints of the Delta that’s pervasive
throughout The Town Crier.
Lazy Lester in particular seems a profound influence – in addition
to a note of thanks in the liner notes, Thomas covers Lester’s “The
Same Thing Could Happen To You,” the only tune among the
collection’s thirteen tracks not written specifically for the
project. And he does it uncannily like Lester, right down to the
drawling, laconic vocals.
Elsewhere, though, Thomas has his own gruff growl of a voice which,
while not particularly versatile, serves his songs well indeed. With
the exception of the aforementioned, most of the tunes were written
or co-written by participants, including Thomas himself, bassist
Steven Dees (whose name appears most often and who also produced the
project) and Victor Wainwright, who contributes keys throughout
along with a co-lead vocal. There are four harmonica players
involved, with band member Stephen Kampa doing the bulk of the work,
and bits of sax and accordion here and there for atmosphere.
Thomas’ music, though, is focused on the songs, and solos are
generally short and sweet. The grooves are as deep and thick as
bayou mud (Dees and drummer Billy Dean are an excellent rhythm
section), and there are equal amounts of dirt and distortion to
maintain an appropriately swampy mood.
Thomas, who’s no slouch on guitar, gets by through the sheer
likeability of his unpolished but unabashedly honest vocals. He’s
earthy and gritty and he can effect dangerous when it’s called for,
but somehow he always sounds like a guy you’d like to have a beer
There are lots of high-gloss productions out there that sound
perfect, and perfectly sterile, and even more indie recordings where
the quality simply doesn’t measure up. Thomas’ The Town Crier
strikes just the right balance – excellent production, top-notch
performances, and lots of personality – an absolutely essential, if
often overlooked, ingredient in the blues. Definitely worth checking
Twelve Bar Rag
by George Wilett
Robert “Top” Thomas is a survivor of the days when Florida had a
great little Blues labeL, the late Bob Greenlee’s King Snake
Records. Kenny Neal’s first album and Lucky Peterson’s third (both
released on Alligator) were recorded there. Tommy McCoy’s “Lay My
Demons Down” was one of the last projects recorded at King Snake.
those days Thomas was part of a band called “Smokehouse” and was
known as “Lightning Boy”! He was a swamp-blues maven then and he’s a
swamp-blues maven now… Hallelujah!
There’s no easing in the to The Town Crier, it’s boogies right off
the bat! The ghost of Bob Greenlee hovers over track one,
“Mississippi Quickie”, in more than just spirit, too! Greenlee and
Thomas penned this little romp!
Cajun –flavored “The Same Thing Could Happen to You” is a bouncy,
upbeat little number… and it’s well-seasoned with a zesty dash of
Beth McKee’s accordion – Tasty!
Keyboard monster Victor Wainwright is spotlighted on both organ and
a share of the lead vocals on the swampy, spooky "Bad Seed". I must
admit, I'm quite partial to this track!
“YeeHaw Junction” is a hot little instrumental which features 2012
Florida Harmonica Champion Stephen Kampa. If this track is any
indication I can surely see why he’s the champ.
a Freight Train” is a quick little countryish Blues that features
Thomas on guitar, Kampa on harp and our homie Damon Fowler on dobro.
This number chug down the rails so nicely that I wish the ride was
with the aforementioned guests The Town Crier also features Brandon
Santini, Mark Hodgson, and (that old Smokin’ Torpedo himself) Jeff
Willey on harp.
disc is not some tortured, heavy “Blues statement”, it’s a cool
little Florida born-and-bred jewel of swampy Blues…featuring Florida
musicians. Pretty Cool!
Blues Monday Monthly
by Doug Spike
“The Town Crier” by Florida bluesman Robert “Top” Thomas is chock
full of down home blues. Described on his website as “a gumbo of
Louisiana swamp and Delta Blues”. The thirteen mostly original songs
on “The Town Crier” feature raw blues vocals and guitar from Thomas.
Bass player Stephen Dees produced the CD and gets writing credit on
many of the tracks. Billy Dean is on drums, 2012 Florida Harmonica
Championship winner, Stephen Kampa blows harp and a load of talented
special guest musicians contribute.
Town Crier” gets your attention with hard driving guitar and harp on
the first cut “Mississippi”. Traditional blues lovers are sure to
want more after hearing “King Snake Crawl”. The boogie piano of
guest artist Victor Wainwright gets me hoppin’ to the upbeat “Sugar
Shop”. Check out the virtuoso harmonica lead on the fast paced
“YeeHaw Junction”. You gotta love the dobro of special guest Damon
Fowler on “I’m a Freight Train”.
unconsciously left “The Town Crier” in my player until I heard it
several times. The CD is impressive on the first play, and is even
better with age. Robert “Top” Thomas and “The Town Crier“ belongs in
every blues collection.
Brian McKinnon – Sr. MuzikReviews.com Staff
Key Tracks: Mississippi Quickie, King Snake Crawl, Yeehaw Junction
Robert “Top” Thomas is a native of New Smyrna Beach, Florida and
master practitioner of swamp blues. He is the founding member of the
Florida swap blues band SmokeHouse, which rose to prominence in the
90s. With the release of The Town Crier, Thomas takes his act solo,
though it features appearances by Victor Wainwright, Damon Fowler,
and Brandon Santini. With themes such as religion, and
relationships, The Town Crier is one blues album that is sure to
The Town Crier is kicked off with “Mississippi Quickie.” Thomas’s
gruff voice might not be for everyone but I like it and I think that
it fits well with a fun, good times atmosphere created by the music,
which is pretty hopping. The music of “Blue Grass” has a slower and
more methodical quality to it with a harmonica that adds to the
effect. “Lazy Little Daisy” is a hilarious song about life with a
deadbeat significant other. “King Snake Crawl” is my favorite song
on the album. From the vocals to the music, it has the best of
everything from this album. It is the type of song that would be
yelled out for requests. The guitar, drums, and harmonica come
together at the end for an incredible ending.
“Bad Seed” brings the listener into the second half of the album on
a strong note. It is hard not to pay attention to this one with its
peculiar opening complete with what I think sounds like animal
noises. Although the music of “What’s the Matter Ma” is seductively
upbeat, the lyrics are anything but, as they tackle issues of
economic hardship. Keeping with the lighthearted music, “Sugar Shop”
is a song that is as sweet as its title. The energetic pace of
“Daddy’s Gone” makes it a nice toe-tapping song about cutting ties
with a bad relationship. “It Ain’t Easy” is a spiritual send-off
that would be right at home at a church service. It is a song that
one can easily sing and clap along with.
The Town Crier is an album that grows on you. At first, I was not
too hot on it, but my opinion changed with subsequent listens, as
songs I did not like the first time won me over the second or third
time around. There are a few songs that I do not care for, but the
quality of the rest makes up for those few. When all is said and
done, despite its flaws, The Town Crier makes for an enjoyable
Don and Sheryl's Blues Blog
During the mid-Nineties down here deep
in the heart of Dixie, the King Snake label was bringing the best in
Southern-fried blues, from artists such as Ace Moreland, the great
sax player, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, and Smokehouse. The guitarist
behind Smokehouse is still rockin’ those blues, and Robert ‘Top’
Thomas has just released “The Town Crier,” on the WildRoots label.
Drawing from his influences such as Lazy Lester, Jimmy Reed, and
all the greats that recorded for King Snake back in the day, the New
Smyrna Beach native brings together twelve band originals and one
scintillating cover that lets everyone know that the blues are still
goin’ strong deep down in Florida.
Produced and arranged by
Stephen Dees, who also adds bass and backing vocals, Top is joined
by Billy Dean on drums, and Stephen Kampa on harp, the winner of the
2012 Florida Harmonica Championships. Top and the fellows visit
several genres’ on this set, and do so very well. Check out the
leadoff slab of chugging roadhouse boogie, finding the Top lookin’
for a “Mississippi Quickie!!” They sound as if they are on our
front porch havin’ a cold one on the acoustic gems, “What’s The
Matter Ma,” and a clever ode to taking your mind off your troubles
by lighting up a shot of “Blues Grass!” Victor Wainwright gets in
some great piano work on the N’Awlins-flavored trip down to the
“Sugar Shop,” while Top and guest Damon Fowler on dobro bring a
touch of the Delta to everything on “I’m A Freight Train.” There’s
even a bit of “Sunday morning” to close the set, as everyone joins
in on “It Ain’t Easy, gettin’ thru Heaven’s door.”
We had three favorites,
too. On the hilarious title cut, a cool horn section adds spice to
Top’s tale of a woman who done him wrong, and turned him into “The
Town Crier.” The slow burn of “King Snake Crawl” name-checks
virtually everyone from that storied roster, and they all “had their
mojo workin” back in the day. And, we’ve always been partial to
Lazy Lester, and Top’s vocal on “The Same Thing Could Happen To You”
sounds so much like Lester that it’s downright spooky! Beth McKee
spices it up with some cool squeeze box, too.
Robert ‘Top’ Thomas has
served notice that the blues is alive and well in the deep South,
and “The Town Crier” will sho’ nuff tell you all about it! Until
by Mick Rainsford
Many of you will remember
Thomas as a founding member of Florida Swamp Blues band Smokehouse
who recorded four acclaimed CDs back in the 90s. Well … Thomas is
back with another wild smorgasbord of Swamp and Delta blues backed
by the Wild Roots rhythm section and harmonica virtuoso Stephen
Thomas’s gruff vocals and
Kampa’s swamp fuelled harp power the opening track, ‘Mississippi
Quickie’, which blends the classic Excello sound with the hypnotic
qualities of North Mississippi Hill Country blues. ‘The Same Thing
Could Happen To You’ is pure Louisiana melding Lazy Lester with the
Cajun stylings of Beth McKee’s accordion – ‘King Snake Crawl’ with
it’s lowdown harp could easily have been culled from Lightnin’ Slim
or Silas Hogan’s back catalogue – ‘Sugar Shop’ with it’s stomping
piano (Victor Wainwright) is fired by a stomping honky-tonk feel –
whilst Broonzy meets Lonesome Sundown on the irresistible swing of
‘It Ain’t Easy’ which comes replete with a down-home choir.
Add in the slide and harp
fuelled train blues ‘I’m A Freight Train’ driven by Damon Fowler’s
percussive dobro, and the bluegrass inspired ‘What’s The Matter Ma’
and you have a set that will have instant appeal to all swamp-blues
Blues in the NorthWest
By: Norman Darwen
in the 90s the King Snake label was a real force in presenting blues
from the south (of the USA). Singer/ guitarist/ bandleader Robert
‘Top’ Thomas, from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, was a member of the
group Smokehouse, who recorded for the label, and he also worked
with the likes of sax legend Noble ‘Thin Man’ Watts, Lazy Lester,
Bill Wharton, and others. So his credentials are pretty good, and so
is this album.
sound of Louisiana swamp blues is mixed with that of down-home
Mississippi very successfully, resulting in a tough but accessible
“Florida swamp” approach. There is plenty of wailing harmonica and
rocking slide guitar – ranging in style from Muddy Waters to Duane
Allman – over a cooking rhythm section, and Robert’s lived-in vocals
certainly suit the songs.
Expect to hear echoes of Lightning Slim, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, a
little raw soul, and something of that man Lester and you won’t be
too far wrong. Nice to see too that Robert remembers his past –
there is even a number called ‘King Snake Crawl’!
Crossroads Blues Society
Reviewed by Diane
This album is New Smyrna Beach, Florida native, Robert 'Top' Thomas'
first solo album endeavor. Thomas has toured and recorded with the
likes of Noble 'Thin Man' Watts, Lazy Lester, Bill 'Sauce Boss'
Wharton, and Alex Taylor since he was 13. Thomas was also a founding
member of Smokehouse, recording four albums on the King Snake
Records label in the 1990's to define Florida Swamp Blues as a
distinctive genre in the world of blues. Twelve of the 13 tracks
were written for the disc project with album producer Stephen Dees
noted most often. The third track, "The Same Thing Could Happen to
You" is the only tune composed for another project. Previously
written by Jerry West and recorded by first generation swamp blues
musician, Lazy Lester, Thomas' vocal interpretation is similar and
Thomas notes his thanks to Lester on the cd liner notes for
inspiring him to make this album.
"The Town Crier" is a compilation of down and dirty delta swamp
blues. Thomas' voice is gritty and gruff yet clear enough to carry
the album's simple short stories. Good
guitar riffs are ample through out. The instrumental "Yeehaw
Junction" has tenor sax and harmonica complementing the riff.
Stephen Dees' "Bad Seed" has Thomas grinding out the words, "Why do
you water your garden with the tears of the broken hearted?". "Blues
Grass" and "What's the Matter Ma" croon about hard economic times.
"Sugar Shop" is one of my favorite tracks with Wainwright's boogie
piano accompanying Thomas' guitar riffs and gravel vocals. Another
favorite is the title track, "The Town Crier" with a smoky
harmonica. "Lazy Little Daisy" is a humorous number about a deadbeat
spouse. I recommend listening to this album more than once as it
will definitely grow on you. Two thumbs up!
Good New Music
by Peter Hund
Take the riff from ZZ Top’s “La Grange,” add a solo vaguely
reminiscent of Steve Howe’s from “All Good People” by Yes, and
finish it off with an outro possibly inspired by Wings’ “Helen
Wheels.” As incongruous as that might seem, it all works on the
outrageous opening track from Florida swamp blues master Thomas’
Thank goodness for
small regional labels that release hard-to-find music such as this.
Bassist, producer and songwriter Stephen Dees explains how he, his
wife and an up-and-coming blues pianist founded WildRoots:
“Patti and I met Victor
(Wainwright, WildRoots’ first artist) at a charity benefit
performance that we were both playing at in Ormond Beach, Fla.,”
Dees told Good New Music by e-mail. “We both dug each other’s music.
Eventually Victor asked me if I would co-write with him and produce
his album. … We all decided that the best way to put out quality
records would be to have our own label.”
include playing bass for Hall and Oates in the ’70s; forming Novo
Combo with Michael Shrieve (Santana) in the ’80s; touring with
Foghat in the ’90s; and working with his wife as The Bandees in the
But back to Thomas:
“I’ve known Robert for a long while,” Dees told GNM. “I’ve had the
pleasure of working with him many times. What we love the most about
‘Top’ is that he’s the real deal — a genuine bluesman. So when it
came down to signing our first act other than Victor Wainwright and
the WildRoots, it was an easy choice to go with ‘The Town Crier.’ ”
and the title track are remakes of tunes recorded in the ’90s by
Thomas’ old blues band SmokeHouse, but Dees confided to GNM that he
played them with Thomas in other bands before Thomas recorded them
“Blues Grass” homes in
on the Delta side of Thomas’ sound, and features some of his tasty
electric slide-guitar work. Written by Dees and Wainwright, it
originally appeared on Wainwright’s 2009 album, “Beale Street to the
Thomas pays tribute to
mentor Lazy Lester by covering the harmonica player’s 1963 Excello
B-side, “The Same Thing Could Happen to You,” right down to the
“King Snake Crawl,” a
Thomas co-write with Dees, eulogizes Bob “The Midnight Creeper”
Greenlee and other artists who recorded for King Snake Records — a
Florida-based independent blues label started by Greenlee — whose
roster included Rufus Thomas, Lucky Peterson, Kenny Neal, Noble
“Thin Man” Watts, Root Boy Slim and SmokeHouse.
include the raucous instrumental “YeeHaw Junction”; the acoustic
“I’m a Freight Train,” featuring guitar wunderkind Damon Fowler on
dobro; and “It Ain’t Easy,” with its gospel-tinged ending featuring
the WildRoots Choir.
BLUES BLAST' REVIEW
By Mark Thompson
It is not uncommon for a new recording
to appear featuring a veteran musician who, despite a lengthy
resume, has managed to escape the notice of the majority of the
blues community. Sometimes these musicians have spent their careers
backing bigger names. Other times they may not have strayed too far
from home in order to be there for their family or to hold down a
day job. In some cases, the musician is competent but lacks the
extra talent and skills needed to successfully front a band.
No need to worry about any of those concerns with Robert Top Thomas.
A founding member of Smokehouse, a band that recorded for King Snake
Records in the 90's, Thomas has played guitar and added vocals to
the bands of Lazy Lester, Bill 'The Sauce Boss' Wharton, Noble 'Thin
Man' Watts and Victor Wainwright. A native of Florida, Thomas serves
up a concoction that is part Delta, epitomized by Muddy Waters,
mixed with a dose of the loping rhythms from the Louisiana swamps
that sparked the work of Lightnin' Slim and Lazy Lester. Throwing in
some Jimmy Reed for seasoning, Thomas ends up with a potent brew
that would sound right at home in Florida's swampland.
Thomas hits it hard right from the git-go with producer Stephen Dees
on bass and Billy Dean on drums laying down a tough boogie beat on
Mississippi Quickie behind the leader's raw vocal and urgent guitar
work. Stephen Kampa gives listeners a taste of his prowess on harp
that helped him win the 2012 Florida Harmonica Championship. The
pace immediately downshifts into a more relaxed groove on Blues
Grass with Thomas bemoaning the current economic climate and using
his slide guitar to drive the point home over harp ace Brandon
Santini's fine blowing. Beth McKee's accordion lends a sprightly
Cajun touch to The Same Thing Could Happen To You while Thomas's
vocal tone and delivery recall Watermelon Slim.
Highlights include King Snake Crawl with Thomas paying tribute to
some of his musical compadres' including Watts, Ace Moreland and
Root Boy Slim. Another musician that Thomas worked with, Mark
Hodgson, maintains the high level of harp playing. The tune, written
by Thomas and Dees, takes you deep into the blues netherworld with a
hypnotic beat that offers your only escape from the clutches of the
swamp. Wainwright plays piano and organ throughout the disc and
joins Thomas for a compelling duet on Bad Seed. Victor's soulful
style pairs well with the rough-hewn singing from the leader, who
delivers a taut guitar solo to answer Wainwright's stately organ
solo. Thomas does some nice acoustic picking on What's the Matter Ma
and trades licks with Damon Fowler on dobro on I'm a Freight Train.
Santini contributes another standout performance on Daddy's Gone
while Thomas bluntly says good-bye to a no-good woman.
On the title cut backed by Patricia Ann Dees on tenor sax and
Jeffrey Willey, another harp player, singing about another woman
that broke his heart and seeking solace through his guitar, then
suffering a humorous breakdown as the song ends. After a brief,
dazzling opening from Wainwright on piano, Thomas rolls through
Sugar Shop as he attempts to entice a woman to give his loving a
try. YeeHaw Junction is the lone instrumental with Kampa and Thomas
getting the chance to stretch things out a bit.
Thomas and Dees had a hand in writing most of the material with
Wainwright helping out on two tracks. Collectively, they manage to
maintain a high standard that gives Thomas plenty to work with. And
he is up to the task. This recording has a authentic down-home feel
and stays in the pocket, never falling victim to screaming solos or
straying too far from the blues traditions. Thomas may not break any
new ground but he knows how to make good music. This little gem
proves it time and time again.!