If you recall how the Fabulous Thunderbirds sounded early on, before "Tuff Enuff" and all that, they were a throwback to the vintage blues-rock bands of years past. Not of the sixties, mind you, but of the fifties; back in the day when rock 'n' roll had just spun off of the electric blues, but the differences between the two were still barely distinguishable. The success of that single and a couple of more mainstream hits veered the T-Birds away from their original mission, and, not too long after, guitarist Jimmie Vaughan left the band to get back to the basics. Lead singer and harp player Kim Wilson stayed on, but his own solo records revealed he still shared Jimmie's passion for Chicago blues and roots rock. It's why I enjoy Wilson's records more than any Fabulous Thunderbird record from Tuff Enuff on, save for last year's pleasant surprise Painted On.While they're all enjoyable, of the half dozen or so albums released under the Kim Wilson name, the one that really stands out is his last one, 2003's Lookin' For Trouble. It's here that Wilson, as composer, singer, harmonica player, and producer, painstakingly recreates the sound and feel of a top notch rockin' record out of the late Eisenhower era. It sounds as if he walked into a Chicago studio around 1958 and channeled Louis Jordan, Little Walter Jacobs, and Ray Charles. Wilson manages to replicate a Chess session in virtually every detail, down to the skittering guitar and the uneven miking.
Wilson’s amped up harp wouldn’t scare Little Walter, but his harmonica is probably the closest sound to Mr. Jacobs on the scene today, with apologies to Charlie Musselwhite and Studebaker John. Jump blues, Chicago blues, early rock 'n' roll, the collection is a gumbo of all that was great about plugged in fifties' music. "Hand To Mouth" is like a long lost Howlin' Wolf classic, down to the field hollering and the Hubert Sumlin-like rhythm guitar. And check out how the reverb on "Money Marble & Chalk" alters Kim's voice and harp to such a beautifully muddy effect; you can almost smell the cigarette smoke and taste the Schlitz. Or his ebullient vocal and the gritty sax solo on the hopping "Hook Line And Sinker." Or the hard rockin' lead off track "Lookin' For Trouble, Pt. 2" that approximates Jerry Lee Lewis, but replaces Lee Lewis' ivory pyrotechnics with some genuinely nasty harp playing. And if you want all of that nasty playing without the singing getting in the way, the instrumental "F Fat" can make you more than happy.Damn, forget Brian Setzer, fifty years ago, Wilson could have been regarded as the coolest thing since James Dean. On Lookin' For Trouble, Kim Wilson shows us he's tough enough for real this time.