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Chris Thomas King - Antebellum Postcards

21st Century Blues Records

10 songs; 37 minutes

Styles: Blues Rock; Traditional Gospel; American Folk Songs

“Antebellum” technically means “before the U.S. Civil War,” but when most people use it, they are typically referring to events that happened after the Blue and the Grey came to blows. The word evokes images of cotton plantations, Southern belles, and burning cities such as Atlanta. Chris Thomas King, in his latest album, sends us “Antebellum Postcards.” Several of them are in the form of well-known Gospel and American folk ballads, while the others propel us forward into modern blues rock.

 The cover art for this CD depicts King with his guitar, standing placidly among the trees, in a sepia-toned photograph. Those expecting an old-fashioned musical atmosphere, however, will be completely surprised! Each one of the ten songs featured was either written or arranged by this talented musician, so even the covers have their own unique spin. Chris Thomas King, mainly solo, employs a dazzling array of instruments here, from the standard electric and acoustic guitars to a mandolin, Dobro, Fender Rhodes piano, harmonica, and even an African drum called a djembe. He does have Jeff Mills on drums and Ryan Clute on bass.

Here are some “letters” that listeners will want to read with their ears:
Track 3: “Rehab”--This thrashing blues-rock anthem pays an anguished tribute to the late Amy Winehouse. It's written and sung from the point of view of someone who treasured her: “She's the one, the only one, to keep me sane under the sun. To ease the pain, I go insane, but I can't have her in my veins....” One might wonder who is more addicted—the beloved or the lover. This song would sound great in a mash-up with the original “Rehab,” performed by Amy herself.

Track 4: “California Letter”--Chris Thomas King's vocals on this album are typically soft and understated. On no other track are they more melodic than this one. Some may consider it to be the first true “Antebellum Postcard:” Over his multi-instruments, he sings, “I'm off to find my blessed angel. I have to leave you in this one-horse town. They say it's greener in the City of Angels. Soon I'll be California-bound....” This is the melancholy missive left behind by the narrator's sweetheart, who has absconded. Despite its sorrowful minor-key tones, it's addicting enough for multiple play-throughs.

Track 6: “Sketches of Treme”--This number is immediately hypnotic. Be careful while driving and listening at the same time! Featuring a swaying beat and King's thrumming percussion, “Treme” will weave its delicate web of relaxation-inducing brilliance. Grab a partner and head to the dance floor before it's too late and one finds oneself blissfully nodding off.

Songs such as these would ordinarily make “Antebellum Postcards” a winner in listeners' minds. However, they are jarringly counterbalanced by bland renditions of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” These Gospel-tinged tunes are best sung with powerful and projected vocals rather than soft, gentle ones. Still, give this CD a try if you're a fan of Chris Thomas King (or about to become his newest one)!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

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