Review : Eddie and Frank Thomas – Southport – 16 Sep

Posted on: Tuesday, Sep 19, 2006

Eddie and Frank Thomas at the Southport Arts Centre, Saturday, 16th September 2006

Two highly successful UK tours in 2005 presaged the very welcome re-appearance of the Thomas Brothers from Iuka, Mississippi. However, far from being a straightforward repeat performance, this year’s Angels On The Backroads show contained a substantial amount of new film footage of the countryside, historic buildings, towns and cities along the railroad and Highway 61 between Memphis and New Orleans.

The presentation continues to be delivered to schools throughout Mississippi as an excellent way of educating the state’s young generation about their rich musical heritage. The format of the performance combines the musical and storytelling talent of Eddie with the technical skills of Frank. It is essentially a documentary that merges a depiction of the social and agricultural history of the Delta with an appreciation of its simultaneous musical developments.

Eddie tells the story by weaving relevant songs around his fascinating narrative, as the film unfolds behind him – an arrangement that demands and uncannily achieves an immaculate synchronisation of the two media. In addition to Memphis and New Orleans, the travelogue visited the Dockery Farms, the Stovall Plantation, Rolling Fork, Bentonia, Jackson and Mount Zion Church, one of at least three locations that lays claim to Robert Johnson’s resting place.

The diverse musical programme provided a range of seminal Delta compositions from Kit Bailey’s “Mississippi Bottom Blues”, through Skip James’s “Cypress Grove Blues” to Bukka White’s “Special Streamline”. Eddie also delivered an unusually slow but very effective version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and a rousing rendition of Big Boy Crudup’s “Mean Old Frisco Blues”. There was also a sprinkling of splendid original compositions, not least “Nelson Street Blues” and some beautifully constructed ballads.

As last year, this was a spell-binding performance, with Eddie Thomas excelling on vocals, acoustic and National Steel guitars, harmonica and trumpet (in particular on a terrific version of Little Walter’s “Juke”), brilliantly complementing the photographic and sound-based wizardry of brother Frank. It is a complete and unique performance by two consummate professionals that requires the audience simply to sit back and let the magic wash over them – a memorable experience.

Lionel Ross

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