By Daniel Kohn
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You don't want to keep a classic T-Bird like Kim Wilson sitting in a garage for long. The co-founder/singer/songwriter/harmonica ace of the long-running Fabulous Thunderbirds has recently split time between his solo career and manning the rudder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Texas-style blues-rock band he and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan formed in Austin more than 30 years ago.
While both vehicles have been sputtering for some time, the good news is that the T-Birds' last release, 2005's Painted On, offers a welcome return to form thanks to better songs, sizzling guitar/harp passages and a soulful, gritty vibe that had been MIA. Plus, Wilson has found a true band, not just a mishmash of hired guns. Relatively new to the fold are two guitarists—Nick Curran and Kirk "Eli" Fletcher—whose distinctive yet complementary styles add depth and personality, two key ingredients missing since Fullerton-born axeman Kid Ramos departed several years ago.
Curran, who's played alongside Kim Lenz and Wayne "The Train" Hancock, is well-versed in roots/rockabilly/hepcat swing. His guitar style sounds retro yet still very much alive. The twentysomething Fletcher has focused on the classic Chicago blues sounds of the '50s and '60s while honing his already considerable chops playing for West Coast blues stalwarts Al Blake, Junior Watson, Lynwood Slim and Charlie Musselwhite.
No one expects the T-Birds—also featuring bassist Ronnie James Weber and drummer Jay Moeller (keyboardist Gene Taylor and drummer Jimi Bott have moved on)—to generate more hits like "Tuff Enuff" and "Wrap It Up." Yet there is nothing like passion and renewed commitment to blow the rust off those pistons, and Wilson—the lone original member—now seems determined to stabilize his lineup before shifting from idle into overdrive.