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The Town Crier - REVIEWS

Released - 02/19/2013


 

 

Music News Nashville
by Janet Goodman

“He 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.

“Lazy 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
Bill Locey

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. 

 

Living Blues
by: Mark Uricheck

Florida's 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 blues.

Thomas is 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 album.

"The Same 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.

Thomas' solo debut is an eclectic gumbo of Delta hooks, Louisiana merriment, and top-notch musicianship.

 

Silver Michaels - Memphis TN
Jan 2013

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 Town Crier." 

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 blues tradition. 

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 feet. 

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
http://barnowlblues.punt.nl/Layout/Threeblocks/Images/blank.gifbarnowlblues.punt.nl

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 and keyboards.  

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". 

Conclusion:
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
http://fridaybluesfix.blogspot.com/

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
by Rich Cibelli

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 swamp blues.

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

I 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.

 

Blues Bytes 

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 Victor Wainwright.

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 Brandon Santini. 

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 co-lead vocals.

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
by John_Taylor

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 with.

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 out


 

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.

In 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!

The 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.

“I’m 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 longer!

Along with the aforementioned guests The Town Crier also features Brandon Santini, Mark Hodgson, and (that old Smokin’ Torpedo himself) Jeff Willey on harp.

The 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.  

“The 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”.

I 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.

 


Muzik Reviews
Brian McKinnon – Sr. MuzikReviews.com Staff

http://www.muzikreviews.com/reviews.php?ID=2457

[4 stars]
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 entertain.

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 musical experience.

 

Don and Sheryl's Blues Blog
http://donandsherylsbluesblog.wordpress.com/

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 next time….

 

Blues In Britain
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 Kampa.

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 aficionados. 

 

Blues in the NorthWest
By: Norman Darwen

www.bluesinthenorthwest.com/

Back 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.

The 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 Newsletter
Reviewed by Diane Mandell

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
goodnewmusic.com


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’ solo debut.

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.”

Dees’ credentials 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 2000s.

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.’ ”

“Mississippi Quickie” 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 with SmokeHouse.

“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 Bayou.”

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 Louisiana drawl.

“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.

Other highlights 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.!

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

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