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5.0 1
by Cassandra Wilson

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Cassandra Wilson can change producers, switch around instrumentalists, cover all manner of material or write her own songs, but one thing thankfully hasn’t changed: her gorgeously earthy voice. On Thunderbird, Wilson has indeed altered some basic elements of her earlier recordings. T-Bone Burnett is now on hand as a co-producer; some new collaborators have


Cassandra Wilson can change producers, switch around instrumentalists, cover all manner of material or write her own songs, but one thing thankfully hasn’t changed: her gorgeously earthy voice. On Thunderbird, Wilson has indeed altered some basic elements of her earlier recordings. T-Bone Burnett is now on hand as a co-producer; some new collaborators have stepped in, including guitarist Colin Linden and bassist Mike Elizondo; and Wilson is indeed composing many of her own tunes. Yet the dark, luscious tones of our premier singer -- no matter the genre -- hold it all together, stamping the project as another first-rate Wilson album. The blues hovers around much of the album, confirming that this Mississippi-raised artist remains deeply in touch with her musical roots. Sometimes the sources are obvious, like a sly take on the Muddy Waters anthem “I Want to Be Loved,” an evocative turn on the traditional “Easy Rider,” and the reworked folk tune “Red River Valley.” Pop-infused performances like Jakob Dylan’s lovely “Closer to You,” the hit-worthy original “It Would Be So Easy,” and “Tarot” are imbued with immediate, sensual readings. Producers Burnett and Keefus Ciancia at times incorporate funky beats and electronic programming in tasteful ways that add a contemporary feel to the album without smothering Wilson’s natural gifts. Nothing, though, can now obscure Wilson’s ace-in-the-hole: maturity. This is a woman who sounds like she knows exactly what she’s singing about, and that authenticity colors everything on this welcome album.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Cassandra Wilson's swinging for her own creative fences this time. The sultry, gentle, acoustic guitars on her last five recordings have been largely jettisoned for a more keyboard-and percussion -friendly approach -- which includes lots of programming and loops. To that end, she's enlisted flavor-of-the-year producer T-Bone Burnett and keyboardist Keith Ciancia. This pair hired a stellar group of players that include drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Reginald Veal (a near-constant here), guitarists Colin Linden and Marc Ribot, and programming whiz Mike Elizondo. Mike Piersante plays "keypercussion" (read: drum loops), Jay Bellerose and Bill Maxwell also contribute kit work. Keb Mo' guests on a track. Ever since signing to Blue Note, Wilson's walked a razor-wire between blues, pop, and jazz, but her recordings have always been intimate affairs whether she was singing songs by Robert Johnson or Van Morrison. While she does preserve a degree of that intimacy here, some of it has fallen by the wayside in favor of the near-constant presence of drum loops, with subtle samples dropped in giving the entire proceeding a slightly more urban feel. A startling example is "Go to Mexico," where a percussion loop and the vocal chant from the Wild Tchapitoulas "Hey Pocky A-Way," are directly sampled with new words and instrumentation layered over the top -- including Veal copying the bassline. In addition, Wilson sings in a voice not really heard from her before. Intertwined with her trademark, smoky contralto (Wilson has been deeply influenced by Abbey Lincoln and Betty Carter but has become a true song stylist of her own), is a falsetto in the verse that feels like a deliberate attempt at singing "straight" modern pop. The thin, compressed production with her vocal mixed so high above the largely keyboard-driven instrumentation feels forced, at odds with the tune, and nearly sterile. Thankfully, it's the exception rather than the rule on Thunderbird. The atmospheric keyboard line that introduces her read of Jakob Dylan and the Wallflowers' "Closer to You," gives way to Keltner's softly insistent trip-hop shuffle, Veal's minimal bassline, and Ciancia's piano, keyboards, and loops are the working elements here. Wilson's guitar drifts in under her aching, seductive vocal on the refrain as Veal subtly anchors her. Wilson's read of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Easy Rider" starts out that way -- with Linden and Ribot playing snaky and skeletal for the first two verses. It roars to life about two-and-half-minutes in, fully electric, dirty, nasty, and drenched in slow, deep swamp blues. Keltner's playing is utterly transfixing here. At a touch over seven minutes, its entrancing dynamics provide a virtual journey though the blues both past and future. The slippery drum loops re-enter on the band-written original "It Would Be So Easy," and here, club music touches pop touches the roots of the blues -- the former two happen because of the instrumentation, the latter is due to Wilson's instrument, which embodies them all and creates a new and ghostly meld. "Red River Valley" is the album's centerpiece. Accompanied only by Linden' electric slide guitar, it is full of the desolation of the tune's intent, but framed in the context of the Delta. It's one of two guitar/vocal duets here; the other one, the ballad "Lost," is more late-night Julie London than Billie Holiday. Willie Dixon's "I Want to Be Loved" is wonderful update of the blues, and "Poet" may not hit the Urban Top Ten chart, but it should; it's wondrously soulful, sexy, and glossy. While Wilson has certainly not lost any of her singular talent for interpreting the Chicago blues through the lens of jazz and pop , she has expanded her palette once more by creating an entirely new bag from which we might hear pop, through the age-old hypnotic, sensual, incantory veil of the blues.

Product Details

Release Date:
Blue Note Records


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Cassandra Wilson   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Vocals
Marc Ribot   Guitar,Electric Guitar
Jim Keltner   Drums
Reginald Veal   Electric Bass,Bass Guitar,Acoustic Bass,Upright Bass
Keith Ciancia   Bass,Piano,Strings,Electric Bass,Keyboards,Synthesizer Strings
Colin Linden   Guitar,Harmonica
Bill Maxwell   Drums
Keb' Mo'   Guitar
Jay Bellerose   Drums
Mike Piersante   Percussion
Mike Elizondo   Synthesizer,Strings,Electric Bass,Bass Guitar,Acoustic Bass,Upright Bass,Synthesizer Strings
Grégoire Maret   Harmonica
Keefus Ciancia   Piano,Bass Guitar,Keyboards

Technical Credits

Willie Dixon   Composer
Cassandra Wilson   Arranger
T Bone Burnett   Producer,Audio Production
Keith Ciancia   Arranger,Programming,Producer,Engineer
Jakob Dylan   Composer
Colin Linden   Arranger
Ziggy Modeliste   Composer
Steve Rodby   Engineer
Andy Taub   Engineer
Cam Wilson   Composer
Mike Piersante   Composer,Engineer
Mike Elizondo   Programming
François Lardeau   Engineer
Traditional   Composer
Melanie Dunea   Cover Photo
Irene Zukoski   Management
Clay Patrick McBridge   Inlay Photography
Clay Patrick McBride   Inlay Photography
Gordon H. Jee   Art Direction
Keefus Ciancia   Programming,Audio Production

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Thunderbird 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago