Ramblin' Thomas: Hard Dallas
True to his ascribed moniker Ramblin’ Thomas was prone to riding the rails and wandering the back roads of rural America. At various points during his peregrinations he let the dust behind his feet settled long enough in urban areas to record the lasting sides gathered on this recent Catfish compilation. Unfortunately as fate would have it the recording contract he eventually secured was with Paramount (through a friendship with Blind Lemon Jefferson). Paramount’s recording practices and materials were the most miserly among the big three ‘race record’ labels (Columbia, Okeh were the others). As a result, while the sides survive, the surface noise resulting from the cheap materials on which they were cut survives as well.
Though Thomas’ birthplace was in Louisiana both his style of picking and prosaic vocal deliveries were usually associated with the blues culture of the Deep Ellum community of Dallas, one of his later haunts. The subjects of his songs center on the usual gallery of shady characters and virtue-eroding vices sung in Texas vernacular and framed with nimble fingered strums. A disarming slide technique also crops on occasion dipping into the harmonic cracks between familiar chords and floating amidst the static. Thomas’ signature anthem “Ramblin’ Mind Blues” serves as a startling indication of his ability to belt out the lyrics to the point of overpowering the primitive recording mics which squeak and whistle under the stress.
Also contained in the program are several sides by Thomas’ younger brother Jesse, better known to his female admirers as “Baby Face.” Jesse’s fretwork is markedly different from his sibling and he completely eschews slide in favor of cleanly picked runs. A nasalized croon and lyrical dexterity show up his other trademarks and the final four tracks, which serve as representation of his art, are painfully brief in duration. Thomas and his brother may be a minor blues figures by many estimations, but carefully listening to the scant discographies of each man suggests that a possible reassessment of their powers is in order.
Catfish on the web: www.catfishrecords.co.uk
Track Listing: So Lonesome/ Hard To Rule Woman Blues/ Lock And Key Blues/ Sawmill Moan/ No Baby Blues/ Ramblin