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Billy Thompson - A Better Man

Papa Lee Records


Pardon the cliché, but Billy Thompson is a force of nature. Funky gospel infused Memphis-style soul oozes from his very being. His husky soulful voice wrapped up in a blues-hipster delivery is hard to resist, especially when it’s propped up by a grooving band of A-list musicians such as Mike Finnigan, Kenny Gradney, Hutch Hutchinson, Johnny Lee Schell, Lenny Castro, The Texacali Horns and producer-drummer Tony Braunagel. The blues part of the equation is delivered by Billy’s slithering electric slide work, that at times is so locked in with his voice that it’s coming from one place. Finnigan’s organ provides a groove-filled cushion for Billy’s workouts to float atop. The percussion one-two punch of Braunagel and Castro beef-up the attack. The music possesses such freshness that it comes off as always being there. Nothing sounds forced. Billy’s slide moves the tunes along effortlessly.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite here, as brilliant touches abound at every turn. The lyrics in this batch of originals are of the reflective, positive and spiritual type. After a listen, you feel as if you’ve been to a funky-soul church. The revival feel of the opener “Are You Ready” is a gospel-drenched affair, which quickly displays the power of the snaky slide work. It sounds churchy, but it’s a profession of love to a woman. This song slips right into the cool-groove jazzy-boogie shuffle of “A Better Man” that benefits from Finnigan’s jazzy organ. Thompson also shows he is no slouch at playing regular guitar on this tune and others. A herky-jerky rhythm brew of slide and percussion make “Noreen” fit like a glove. “Just like a ballgame and a hotdog” is one of the many analogies used to describe the muse of “Met My Match”, which puts the punchy Texacali Horns to good use. The slide-master once again comes to the rescue as it skips along in the brisk “Downside Up”. The band is just as adept at a more relaxed pace, as witnessed on the R&B-gospel inflected love song “Born Again” and the soulful “Oneness”. A harsher tone is applied to his slide playing on the ominous “Bleed” which speaks to the world’s dire state. The haunting background vocal of Niki Morrissette completes the atmosphere. The device of playing what he sings is used here, owing a debt to the old school country-blues masters. “As If” has the feel of a cool day chillin’ in the park. “Up In The Morning” the only real blues song wraps things up with acoustic slide and harmonica propelling this easy country blues.

Music as uplifting, life reassuring and seamless as this is a gift that deserves to be enjoyed by the masses. It sounds as fresh at each additional listening as it does the first time around. Musical or lyrical gems continue to jump out at you. If this music experience doesn’t move your feet and soul, seek help NOW!

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog’s Doghouse at

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