Alabama Thunderpussy - _Open Fire_
(Relapse, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (8.5 out of 10)
So the big news this time around is that the revolving door roster policy of the ATP has finally netted the band a marquee name, and a singer no less, which is pretty much the quarterback or pitcher or center equivalent in a band... whatever your organized sport of preference might incline you towards. Kyle Thomas is most famous for his time in Exhorder; follow up project Floodgate gets name checked by journalists quite often, but to be honest I don't think I've met anyone who's actually bought their album or listened to it, and unless you had your eyes pinned open like Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange", there's little chance you caught the man's brief touring stint in Trouble a few years back. Nonetheless, these latter gigs were probably far more significant in getting Thomas the ATP job, the chops and soulfulness required being much more to the fore on those projects than on anything Exhorder had to offer.

The southern bluesiness of Thomas' voice has been the most remarked upon and complimented aspect of _Open Fire_ during the early round of album reviews, and though the kudos are warranted to some extent, to another degree they are largely exaggerated. Sure, Kyle Thomas has more range than any singer the band has had to work with thus far, and there is a certain raspiness that goes a long way toward offsetting the cleaner aspects of his singing; so what's the prob? Basically this: for all his chops, Thomas' singing lacks any kind of distinguishing qualities that would put ATP over the top as a band for the ages. One can't help but to wish that, if they were rooting around the backwoods swamps near New Orleans, the band would have sought out a voodoo doctor instead and channeled the ghost of Ray Gillen. There are a number of living vocalists who are also far more adept at pulling off the blues rock corpus -- Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale, Ian Gillian, etc. -- and granted, the likelihood of any of them accepting this assignment would be astronomical to say the least, but nonetheless the comparisons serve to underscore how much more iconic ATP could be as a band with a truly mesmerizing frontman.

The song craft is definitely there. First single "Words of the Dying Man" is probably the best example of what I'm lightly lamenting above, an extremely catchy and well-written tune that is to some degree undercut by Thomas audibly either straining to hit notes, or just trying too hard to wring as much soulful modulation as possible out of his limited vocal chords. Despite any shortcomings, _Open Fire_ is not a total wash... far from it. "The Beggar" has a swinging blues rock groove that a band like Clutch would be proud to claim as their own, and of all the songs on the album it seems to play most to Thomas' strengths, with most of the vocal requirements kept to a lower register where he is obviously more comfortable. "Valor" also showcases his talents to more than adequate effect, and has some tasty Eric Larson soloing to boot.

Yes, get him in his element and Kyle Thomas fits the bill quite nicely. When called upon to belt out barnstorming thrashers a la the title track, he seems most at home, but it's on the more bluesy numbers such as "Whiskey War" and "Brave the Rain" that he struggles to find the pathos to effectively emulate the old blues belters of yore. Nonetheless, this criticism should be taken with a grain of salt, as _Open Fire_ is easily ATP's most realized work to date, with Eric Larson being one of the classier soloists in the genre and sporting a stellar backing band for added measure. Any improvements Kyle Thomas might be asked to make can only help to cement Alabama Thunderpussy as one of the poster child stoner rock bands of their time.


(article published 21/5/2007)

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