Eddie & Frank Thomas
Angels on the Backroads, Volumes 1-4
(Misty Owl Music)
Angels on the Backroads was inspired by the novel idea of two brothers from Iuka, Mississippi who wanted to retread the roots music of the Mississippi Delta, tracing the permutations through the South via Highway 61 and through all the byways and backroads. This ambitious labour of love begins in Memphis and winds its way down to New Orleans over the course of a four-CD 61-song set. Eddie Thomas performed all of the music while his brother Frank documented the journey.
Special moments include Eddie's classy interpretation of Alberta Hunter's "Down Hearted Blues" recorded in the majestic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Memphis, hearing the trolley cars rumble on "Downtown Blues" and a satisfying rendition of the great Tommy Johnson's masterpiece "Big Road Blues" recorded under a magnolia tree near the open highway. It's clear from the onset of Volume 1- Memphis to Clack's Store, that Eddie's strong suit is his plaintive, heartfelt singing accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
By Robinsonville to the Valley Store, the Thomas brothers are deep in the Mississippi Delta revisiting the homeland of Robert Johnson, Son House, Willie Brown, and Muddy Waters, just to name a few. One of the aspects of this series that is most compelling is the eclectic song selection such as Rubin Lacy's "Ham Hound Crave," Gus Cannon's "Poor Boy, Long Way From Home" and a particularly cool rendition of Bukka White's "Special Streamline."
Mounds Landing to Crawford Street begins in Mounds Landing, Mississippi, the site of the great flood of 1927 and the inspiration for Charley Patton's "High Water Everywhere." There's a fine interpretation of W.C. Handy's "Yellow Dog Blues" and a hep, jazzy version of Willie Love's "Nelson Street Blues" recorded in the Deluxe Barber Shop.
Volume 4-Catfish Row to Jackson Square begins with the music of Little Brother Montgomery and Sleepy John Estes, before embarking on a wide-ranging eclectic cross-section of musical pioneers beginning with Jimmie Rodgers. Eddie's multi-layered version of "Mississippi River Blues" is absolutely sublime. From there the Thomas brothers touch upon the music of Lester Young, Little Walter, and Leadbelly's "Midnight Special," recorded in Angola Prison. As they edge closer to New Orleans, they stop in Sunshine to record The Hackberry Ramblers' arrangement of Amédeé Breaux's "Jolie Blonde" to a chorus provided by crickets and frogs. There's a trio of Jelly Roll Morton numbers recorded at various locations associated with the great jazz composer, including "Mister Jelly Lord" performed at Jelly Roll's childhood home on the corner of Frenchmen Street and Robertson. The highlight of Volume 4 is a wonderful interpretation of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "Bamboula" recorded in Congo Square. Eddie offers a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Lonnie Johnson's bittersweet "Tomorrow Night" captured on the Moonwalk. The series closes with an acoustic guitar instrumental rendition of "Sweet Hour of Prayer" recorded in homage to Mahalia Jackson at St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.
Angels on the Backroads is a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating journey that is wonderfully personalized by Eddie and Frank Thomas.
offBEAT Magazine -- December 2003