TEXT BY CLAIRE STEWART
For brothers Eddie and Frank Thomas, music is all about location, location, location. They have recorded a Muddy Water’s tune on a hay bale at Stovall Farms, where Muddy used to work, and where Eddie said he could feel Muddy’s presence. They have also been seen sitting in a sage grass field close to where Son House recorded his version of Shetland Pony Blues. Eddie sang the same song as a mockingbird perched nearby, who then sang along with his slide guitar. They have also played in the choir loft of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, singing Sweet Hour of Prayer, recorded by the sound crew at National Public Radio. Church bells can be distantly heard in the background. They both agree that their location in the Tennessee Valley has drastically influenced their musical style. Eddie, a singer and songwriter, and Frank, a master of recording, work together to record songs about growing up in Iuka, Mississippi, and remembering the past, where Frank says “times were simpler, but not lacking human complexity.” Along with playing classic songs from the past, the brothers have released three original albums: Maggie’s House, Chasing Butterflies, and Pennyland. In Maggie’s House you can find collections of memories from the brothers about their home in Iuka. Chasing Butterflies moves into a time where the brothers were traveling, working in Maine, trekking the Appalachian Trail, and studying directing and acting for a year in New York City. Frank says, “this album does not walk a straight line, but if you stand on the right hilltop, it should offer an interesting view.” Finally, Pennyland, reveals a restlessness in the lives of the brothers and a craving for some ‘uncertainty’ in life, and a ‘quest for undone things’. The whole discography creates a story that anyone can identify with. In 2003, the duo finished up a long and unique project called Angels on the Backroads, which covers the history of the blues through sixty-five songs which are meant to be played along Highway 61, or Blues Highway, from Memphis to New Orleans. Many of the recordings were done along this very same highway. The entire project took three years of researching musicians and learning the songs, three years of recording on location, and two years of producing to create a four CD boxed set with an entire lifetime’s work of music in country, blues, jazz, and roots. Most musicians would cringe at the thought of recording outside and having to deal with the unpredictable weather, but Frank and Eddie agree that this adds so much to their music and the mood they want to create for their listeners. But, they will admit, the conditions are not always favorable. At times, Frank would hold a fleece jacket and move around Eddie, blocking the microphone from wind during each song. There are not many albums in which the recording engineer is listed as one of the contributing artists, but in Frank’s case, it is fitting. The brothers say that the greatest influence to their music is what they heard on radio and television growing up. It is everything from the old jingles and commercials to the harmonies they sang in church pews. They say they are inspired more by the time in which they grew up in than anything else. Though they are intrigued by the ‘simpler times’, the brothers are not unappreciative of the new technologies and music that are popular today. Frank says “any music that is done well, with an honest effort, and has something that makes it feel genuine, certainly grabs our attention and is an inspiration… Eddie is much the artist, looking to tell an honest story in song.”
Comfortable as your favorite loafers; smooth as Kentucky bourbon. Eddie and Frank Thomas weave simple stories into beautiful songs that seem personal in the way they wrap themselves around you. The brothers sing with such tight harmonies they are almost the same voice, and their words speak of love, longing, and a simpler style of life. Maybe it’s their maturity that make these two among our favorites, even as we struggle to ﬁnd words to describe them. They just know us, and they are singing songs about our lives.
J ULY /AUGUST 2012 | NOALAPRESS . COM | 33
Our annual entertainment issue