The Fabulous Thunderbirds make stop at the Wheeler Opera House Thursday | AspenTimes.com
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The Fabulous Thunderbirds make stop at the Wheeler Opera House Thursday

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Courtesy photo

That cliché about the blues singer, the black musician who gets better, more authentic and wise, the older he gets, the more his body wears down, the more of this weary world he sees — well, it might apply to white guys too.

Kim Wilson is several decades removed from the enduring hits, “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up,” he made with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Those songs, from the 1986 album “Tuff Enuff,” helped put blues back on the radio during a time of New Wave and Whitney Houston.

Wilson, at 62, isn’t much of a presence on radio anymore. But he still leads the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and his voice still packs the energy and depth of feeling of the blues. In April, the band released “On the Verge,” their first full-length album since 2005, and if it doesn’t yield a hit, it won’t be because Wilson hasn’t aged well. The album, featuring all-original songs, tilts toward a smoother, soulful side of the blues; it’s in the same vein as the latest work by Robert Cray, another blues veteran who has aged well. There’s an emphasis on keyboards and horn arrangements, and Wilson chips in with nice harmonica work on “Too Much Water.”

The star here, though, is Wilson’s voice. While the songs tend toward being laid back, Wilson’s robust voice adds punch to “On the Verge.” This is a singer who knows how to make less more. Rather than opening up full-throttle all the time, Wilson uses his voice as a dynamic instrument, and when he does begin to roar it has maximum effect.

Wilson delivers emotion as well as sound, giving “Do You Know Who I Am?” a moving message about poverty and community. On “That’s the Way We Roll,” Wilson gets into a gruffer sound, actually sounding like a black bluesman.

Perhaps one of the factors behind the musical triumph here is that Wilson has continued to put miles on his voice. While the Fabulous Thunderbirds, which Wilson founded with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan in 1979, in Austin, have done little recording in recent years, the band has toured extensively (albeit without Vaughan, who left in 1990 to collaborate with his brother, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, and then formed his own band). The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ current tour, which extends into late October, stops tonight at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.


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