Mississippi Mudsharks,
Train Rolls On
(Double Barrel, 2006)

Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers,
Solid Ice
(Telarc, 2007)

If not much alike, these two albums testify to the continuing robust health of electric blues, still vital six decades after emerging as a full-blooded genre in the years immediately following World War II. The Mississippi Mudsharks are swimming in country blues' muddy waters, while Jimmy Thackery is awash in the more urban sounds of the 1960s and beyond. Still, the Mudsharks also feel like a rock 'n' roll band, and Thackeray -- who can rock if he wants to, of course -- still manages to come across as an assured, comfortably rooted bluesman even if, on Solid Ice, jazz, country and even Latin touches are periodically in evidence.

It beats me how anybody who loves music could dislike either of these recordings. Probably, it would take a committed bluesphobe, and if you're one of those, you're an idiot. Fortunately, if you're reading Rambles.NET, the chances of that are slim indeed. A few more words, however, before our paths diverge:

The Mudsharks are not from Mississippi but from that most un-Delta of places, San Diego, which actually is not a bad music town at all. That would account for the occasional surf nods, for but one example in a recurring riff on "Devil's Road," quoting playfully from Dick Dale's legendarily delirium-inducing arrangement of "Ghost Riders in the Sky." Mostly, though, the Mudsharks -- after their obvious debts to the folk-blues sounds of Delta and hill country -- bring to mind a more consistently bluesy Creedence Clearwater Revival, by which I mean music drenched in swamp and humidity, and in this case vocals inspired as much by frogs as by fellow humans.

Only the slow blues "Can't Put Down the Drink" feels strictly traditional, as opposed to extrapolation from tradition. With it the Mudsharks prove that they can pull off standard blues convincingly, but it's the more wild, unhinged material, pounding hard and drawing the listener into a noirish landscape of dangerous nut cases, lost highways, midnight trains, and lurking demons, that makes Train Rolls On such sheer dark pleasure.

Solid Ice is the kind of work that gives professionalism a good name. Jimmy Thackery founded the Nighthawks, an electric blues band, in the 1970s, leaving it in the late 1980s to go off on his own with accompanying musicians known generically as the Drivers. Always a good songwriter, Thackery outdoes himself here with well-crafted tunes with lyrics which only appear simple (e.g., "XXX Wife," which sounds like a joke but which proves to be a rueful, complex exploration into the riddles of marriage, divorce and adult sexuality), set to guitar lines that slink or burn or soothe or rock out as the occasion demands.

When Thackery takes time out to jam, as in the title piece and in the terrific "Hobart's Blues," no wanking is to be detected anywhere. To the contrary, here's a master doing what masters do.

review by
Jerome Clark

24 November 2007

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