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Baileys Harbor (that's in my former home county of Door County, Wis.) resident Pete Thelen comes out swinging on his latest – and what he says is his last – CD release with the equally upbeat and ominuous title Best for Last.
Sounding like Door County’s version of smooth bluesman Bobby “Blue" Bland, Thelen kicks off this 12 song CD with "You Make It Easy," where he and colleagues in the band make it sound easy to be a totally laid-back, in-the-groove hepcat, laying it down like the late, great previously mentioned soulful Mr. Bland. (On a sidenote, what an ironic name for someone so nonBland! If our names fit our jobs, Mr. Bland's last name would be Soulafire, or something like that - ditto my friend, Mr. Thelen.)
Saxist Bennie Hughes lays down a grindhouse solo, and, with an uncredited trumpeter, nicely punctuates “You Make It Easy” throughout.
Now, with a project he says will be his last full-length recording, you'd think Pete would be hogging the whole thing. He'd have good reason to, but as anyone who knows Pete, that's not they way he rolls. Pete's heart is too big and generous to be like that. He shares the space on this disc with musical pals he's made along the way.
Six of the 12 tracks feature others, beginning with track 2, featuring Annie Dekom seductively and powerfully delivering Pete's "Some Kind of Sign," which also includes blistering slide guitar from Charlie Prazma.
That's followed by Lester Chambers delivering a a beautiful take on Pete's mournful "Wind Up from Mexico." Equally chunky and stinging guitar work is delivered by KK Martin. Thelen's lyrics include the classic, make-me-smile-every time reference to "Jody," the guy who steals everyone's girl while they're far away fighting foreign wars or just off at work at the Ford plant. It's one of those spooky blues songs, and Pete seems to have a predilection for that sort of song because there are several of them here.
Number Four, too, is a guest artist - Rena Haus is the vocal star of "Part-Time Love." Playing off her melodically is pianist Mike Shellans.
Pete returns on the fifth song, a duo between him and his old pal Mike King on the unlikeliest of blues instruments, the accordion. But it works beautifully. The song is called "Get'n Down to Business," and they do. Oh, that bass you hear, that's also Mike King earning double pay on his accordion.
My favorite song on the CD might be Number 6, the trippy "Voodoo King." It starts off with a military drumbeat provided by John Hoffman IV, then a psychedelic guitar (Charlie Prazma again) interjects as Pete sings about the Voodoo King, sounding like he's singing in a dark New Orleans alley, with his voice eerily echoing, reverberating off the walls and the thick, low-hanging clouds you know are there. It's scarifying.
Track seven features the strong vocals of Linda Moss, singing stingingly about "Storm A Brewin'." Again, Charlie Prazma's stinging guitar is front and center. He's also playing bass on this track. That guy has a lot of hands!
Next, Pete duels with the tenor sax of Jim Massoth in the song called "Lost & Found."
Track 9, "Move On," sounded instantly familiar, but I wasn't sure why until I saw the droning instrument featured is pat macdonald's cigar box, played by pat himself, and all the other sound coming from the aforementioned Hans Christian, who owns the Sturgeon Bay studio where Pete recorded three of the songs on this record.
Track 10, "Spider Lake," is another one of Pete's spooky blues songs, but this one is taken straight into cinematic stereoscope, with Hans Christian providing the musical atmosphere with a gifted producer's knowing touch.
More blistering slide guitar provided this time by John Reuter is featured on the next song, a loping blues called "New Pain."
Pete closes with the beautiful "Thoughts Passing Thru," with Hans Christian's cello work giving sweet gravitas to this parting shot. The rock 'n' roll wizard is going to make everything OK.
Nice one, Pete! You can buy a copy of Best for Last at pete-thelen.com. I bet if you ask nicely, Pete will even sign a copy for you (actually, he’s signed them all in advance, beneath his beaming visage on the back cover of Best for Last).