Chicago singer Little Al Thomas has been a fixture around south side Chicago blues clubs for decades prior to recording “South Side Story” for Cannonball just before that label folded. He was born in Chicago and grew up with the music and records of Tampa Red, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Lonnie Johnson and had a long stint singing with guitarist lacy Gibson. Blues Boulevard has issued “Not My Warden,” a 2009 recordings of Thomas backed by guitarist John Edelmann and the Deep Down Fools who also include Marty Binder on drums, Rob Binder on keyboards and either Eddie Galchick or Mike Scharf on bass. Included are thirteen tunes, with twelve being originals for about an hour of music.
For some reason the accompaniment to the opening “ Long Ride to the Southside,” conjures up a Sheryl Crow recording, but introduces us to Thomas’ strong vocals as Edelmann adds some whining slide while Binder takes a nice solo. Thomas has a straight-forward style as he belts out the lyrics. Folks in Chicago, I suspect can easily identify with the message of Edelmann’s “I’m Gonna Buy a Politician,” with its mesmerizing John Lee Hooker groove as Thomas delivers the message of working too hard as “its time to improve my position, I’m gonna buy me a politician,” although the lyrics get somewhat repetitive. The title track is a slow shuffle as Thomas wonders about whether his love is a crime and declares “you are my wife, not my warden,” and “you are no ball and chain, and I’m not doing time.” while Edelmann takes a lengthy solo.
“Ready Freddie,” is a nice driving instrumental taken at a relaxed tempo allowing Edelmann to stretch out. The slide is out again for the rocking shuffle, “Wonder What You Think,” as Little Al asks about whether money can buy love. “Don’t take the Keys,” has a jazzier feel to it with Binder being more prominent in accompaniment and Edelmann tone a bit lighter and more directly swinging here. “Anger Heats My House,” also has nice guitar while Binder takes us deep down on the B3 while Thomas please for peace in his house. “Big Time Operators” sounds like a vintage sixties B.B. King influenced recording with Thomas complaining about the seedy side of the music business and the big time operators on the music scene who don’t look like politicians but act as thugs. “West Side Wind,” another energetic instrumental shuffle is followed by a cover of “Reconsider Baby,” with Edelmann playing with a jazzier feel and tone, mixing in chords with his single note runs, and the jazzy flavor continues on the latin-accented closing instrumental “Coronado,” where Edelmann effectively adds some tremolo to his tone.
While the lyrics on this CD are hardly memorable, Thomas is such an robust and soulful singer that one does not notice this. The backing also sounds stronger as one gets into the album. They add more than simply providing varied, rock-steady grooves and Edelmann and Binder provide plenty of solid solos. Its been about a decade since Little Al Thomas‘ last recording, and “ Not My Warden” has made this wait worthwhile.
For FTC regulations, I received a review copy from wither the record label or a publicist.