Judging by "True Stories," Jimmy Thackery's a changed man.
A founding member of bar-band legends The Nighthawks, Jimmy subsequently forged a solo career fronting his own Drivers, becoming known for blistering blues-rock and blazing fretwork. But since signing with Telarc in the late nineties, he seems to have mellowed. First it was his tribute-of-sorts to the late blue-eyed soul great Eddie Hinton, then came "Whiskey Store," a collaboration with Louisiana's Tab Benoit that smoldered but stayed well shy of a full boil. Now we get "True Stories," marking the first time he's collaborated on songwriting duties with his wife, Sally.
Whether it's due to maturity or domestic bliss, gone are the pyrotechnics Jimmy was formerly famous for. In their stead Jimmy offers up a program of carefully considered and melodic rock based upon but often straying fairly far from the blues.
Jimmy says it didn't start out that way; he went into the studio intending to record, as he puts it, "Nothing fancy. Just a collection of blues ditties." But as the sessions progressed, he found the songs taking on a life of their own, become significantly more complex, and presumably more melodic, than he'd originally anticipated. But the growth, he says, was thoroughly organic; liner notes express his appreciation to participants for "helping me to let these songs evolve."
Jimmy had a hand in all but two of the tracks here, with Sally helping out on a handful. Jimmy says they're all based on real-life experiences, either from their own or from the lives of friends and acquaintances. And given the truth inherent in that particular lyrical approach, it's to Jimmy's credit that he respects narrative necessity, keeping his solos short and to the point; in that respect this may be his most focused album yet. The covers, though, given the 'truth' of the other songs, seem curious at first; Buddy Johnson's "Crazy 'bout A Saxophone," which Jimmy says is here to give long-time associate Jimmy Carpenter a chance to stretch out, and Roy Buchanan's immortal instrumental, "The Messiah Will Come Again." But both fit perfectly within the package, the latter proving a fine closer that, while subdued in comparison with most of his earlier works, should still delight guitar freaks if for naught but Jimmy's superb control and exquisite tone.
Jimmy's never been a great singer, but for the most part he recognizes his limitations and employs his laconic drawl to good effect. The more melodic tunes are occasionally a bit beyond him, but he never strains too hard, and there aren't really any wince-worthy moments here.
While The Drivers may not be credited as such on this outing, they're here nonetheless, with the aforementioned Mr. Carpenter his usual stellar self on sax, and the impeccable rhythm section of drummer Mark Stutso and bassist Ken Faltinson steady as always.
When one's as successful and respected as Jimmy, it takes courage to defy expectation and allow one's musical evolution to take its course. Those expecting more of Jimmy's patented sound may be surprised, possibly disappointed, with "True Stories." But if you're willing to accompany him on his musical journey, succumb to his vision, there's much to like here. There just isn't a great deal of blues.
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