Kirsten Thien: Moving into the front ranks of a new generation of young female blues artists who do it all—write, sing, play—and will not be denied.
Baby, You Can Drive My Car
By David McGee
Screen Door Records
We haven’t heard from blues woman Kirsten Thien since her splendid sophomore album, 2006’s You’ve Got Me, but reliable sources say she used the interregnum to hone her songwriting, citing as evidence in the affirmative a 2009 Excellence in Songwriting award (the Abe Olman Award). In keeping with various photos on the packaging of Delicious that show her on the one hand glamorized and offering an enticing barefoot lower leg and in a tougher stance clad in a black halter top and alligator skin patterned jeans, leaning confidently on her Telecaster, the music on her third album is both sultry in a penthouse kind of way and aggressive, heated, and smoldering in a raw, earthy manner. Actually, the line between the two is often blurred, but there is a decided difference in thrust, shall we say, between the horn-infused, Memphis-style soul-rock of her own “Love That’s Made to Share” and the stripped down, thumping guitar (Thien’s) and wailing harmonica (Billy Gibson’s) propelling her swaggering take on Ida Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues” and a truly smoldering, grinding exploration of Willie Dixon’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” fueled by Thien’s aggressive vocal and a lean, mean instrumental trio of rhythm, lead guitar and drums bringing it all back home to simple, unadorned lust.
Kirsten Thien and Billy Gibson romp through Ida Cox’s ‘Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues,’ from Ms. Thien’s new album, Delicious.
Indeed, though, Thien’s own songwriting is really what brings it all back home: the steady grooving soul of a captivating love devotional, “Nobody’s Ever Loved Me Like You Do,” pumping along on a foundation of soothing horns, Arthur Neilson’s tasty guitar interjections, an exuberant female backup chorus, with Thien’s earthy drawl enhancing the commitment her lyrics speak of; the breathy, Lolita-like sensuality she delivers in her double-entendre come-on, “Please Drive,” an exploration of the erotic potential of a (figurative) car that not only features titillating lyrics on the order of “I’m sixteen going on twenty-one” but also a truly lowdown, nasty instrumental answer to Thien’s perfervid yearnings in the form of a a sputtering guitar solo by none other than Hubert Sumlin; an automobile figures in another four-wheeled-centric blues stomp, “Taxi Love,” by the ever-reliable Jon Tiven and Charlie Feldman, who offer a rather frank chronicle of back seat lovin’ of the sweat inducing sort (“you put your hand on my leg/then you kissed me with your sweet lips/you whispered in my ear/give me chills to make my backbone slip/then you take me to your well/you let me drink from your loving cup, yeah…”) in which the entwined partners wind up in an exhibitionistic display, much to the delight of a truck driver who gets an eyeful when he sidles up to the cab (and the way Thien howls, purrs and coos her mounting pleasure will sure enough send you to a cold shower); the languorous boudoir soul of “Ain’t That The Truth,” in which a lover’s vow is testified to under oath as Tommy Mandel’s Wurlitzer hums along sotto voce deep in the mix, Dave Patterson adds spare, probing guitar punctuations and a horn section rises subtly in the background as Thien delivers her testimony with slow boiling urgency in her deceptively calm stance. Note too how in Thien’s writing there is no suggestion of mean man blues—Delicious is about love desired, love delivered, love treasured, love celebrated in the heart and by the body; in fact, the closest thing to a truly downcast sentiment comes in the form of one of the album’s liveliest workouts, the frantic “Get Outta The Funk, Get Into the Groove,” a maelstrom of jittery rhythm, wah-wah guitar and gritty vocal importuning by our Ms. Thien. For good measure, the energized artist can not only be heard but also seen, via an included video of her and Billy Gibson tearing it up in the studio on “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.”
Kirsten Thien live, ‘Treat ‘im Like a Man,’ from her debut album, 2001’s She Really Is
Interesting that an Ida Cox song winds up on Delicious, because Ms. Cox was right in the middle of the first golden era of great female blues singers, in the 1920s, when she, Alberta Hunter, Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters were selling records in numbers often greater than those of popular white male artists in the pop field. They would not be denied, either as artists or as women. The past few years have seen the rise of a powerful generation of young female blues and blues-inspired artists who do it all—sing, write, play—and comprise a new and burgeoning second golden era who are making this music seem as vital as ever, and more honest, less contrived than anything the pop mainstream has to offer. With Delicious having nary a false note on it, Kirsten Thien ascends to the front ranks of that generation—it, and she, will not be denied.