MICKEY THOMAS – ‘Starship’ Marauder (2011)

MICKEY THOMAS - Starship Marauder (2011)

Mickey Thomas is a musical marauder, always on the search for worthy treasure to challenge his outsized vocal talents.

The golden-throated singer from Georgia thrilled arena rock fans when he joined the Starship in 1979 and starred on ‘We Built This City on Rock and Roll’, ‘Sara’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ among others, through the eighties and beyond.

After years engaged in a variety of projects, like a fearless vocal gunslinger in 2009 he trained his sights back on the blues for a stunning and authentic set of classics with the stomping Bluesmasters (already presented here at 0dayrock).

Now, seven years after his last album of original rock, Over The Edge, Thomas has harnessed his muscular and versatile chops to present a hip and wide-ranging selection of classic rock covers spanning decades and styles that only he could perform with such utter confidence and conviction.

As opposed to his basically self-contained blues band from the previous outing, Thomas commandeers a virtual orchestra of exceptional supporting musicians including a full honking horn section, the heavenly Unity Community Choir and many executive producers.

Guest stars included: AOR legends Jimi Jameson (Survivor), Bobby Kimball (Toto), Dewight Twilley, Alex Ligertwood (Jeff Beck), Leif Garrett, Starship band members, and many more.

To his credit and that of his friend, producer, keyboardist and ace guitarist Jeff Tamelier, who plays ‘everything’, the result is a cohesive and strikingly expansive 16-song set and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is the perfect lead-off tune.

Showcasing Thomas’ brawny, bluesy growl and the Unity Community Choir, with the band in a funky R&B groove flavored with evocative and expressive acoustic Dobro slide guitar from Mark McGee, an inventive, simmering version is created with all the drama and apocalyptic menace of the original.

After a scatting intro over trilling keyboards, Thomas slide-steps right into Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” (1986) that faithfully replicates the horn-driven eighties’ pop dance track vibe of the original, but with a crucial injection of Memphis-style soul from the lead singer and his nimble rhythm section.

Thomas was initially influenced to sing after witnessing the Beatles in 1965 and they are well-represented and done justice on the album.

“Maybe I’m Amazed” (1970), Paul McCartney’s hit from his first solo album, is kick started by slashing electric slide guitar courtesy McGee in the intro, while Thomas actually sounds ‘amazed’ as he ramps up his vocal even beyond Paul’s shouting.

The epic Britpop power ballad “Champagne Supernova” (1995) from Oasis provides Thomas an excellent opportunity to wrap his supple vocal chords around the tuneful melody that soars over the dramatic chord progression. After a likewise soaring lead guitar solo from Tamelier that builds in intensity, he takes full advantage to create an orgasmic coda, scatting with lusty abandon.

The Beatles’ “Rain” (1966) could have been written for Thomas as he manages to skillfully and joyfully channel the innocent spirit of the British Invasion era while using his considerable skills to extend and embellish the vocal melody. Clanging guitars and dynamics of volume, along with gorgeous harmonies by the backup singers of Thomas, Tamelier, Marla Major and Bill Bently produce a remarkably innovative version that also contains a smile-inducing segue into “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver.

Leaping forward decades, Thomas continues to display his infallible ear for picking great covers when he sings “Chasing Cars” (2006) by Snow Patrol. Totally immersing himself in the bittersweet lyric line, he builds the ’emo’ ballad with nuance and restraint while communicating without irony the passion and yearning in the original performance.

The later Beatles oeuvre is acknowledged with a deeply moving version of “Across the Universe” (1969) that functions as a fitting tribute to the complicated genius that was John Lennon. Changing the matter-of-fact earnestness of the original into a defiant declaration with “nothing’s gonna change my world,” Thomas could again be speaking his own mind as he intelligently references the “hela” coda from “Hello Goodbye” for added poignancy.

Unafraid to go where no ‘soul man’ has gone before, Thomas tackles “Supermassive Black Hole” (2006) from Muse that appeared on the Twilight soundtrack. Even more ominous than the original with a bigger sound emanating from the heavy rocking rhythm section of Tamelier, bassist Bobby Vega and drummer Prairie Prince, it features Thomas digging way deeper into the lyrics.

“Voices” (1984) by Russ Ballard, that once graced an episode of Miami Vice, gets the full Mickey Thomas ‘treatment’ with a huge, arena-filling sound sporting thunderous rhythm and searing lead guitars and his far more urgent, expressive and soulful vocals. As with some of his other song selections, the lyric of “don’t look back, look straight ahead, don’t turn away then the voice it said…” would seem to have personal resonance.

“Oh! Darling” (1969) gave Paul McCartney the chance to salute his fifties rock `n’ roll roots on Abbey Road and Thomas utilizes it to do double-duty as a tribute to his roots. Starting with a tinny old radio sound, it evolves to the horn section doubling the classic fifties bass line and aggressive punctuation in the stop-time verses. Giving free rein to his rawest vocal technique, Thomas pleads to his lover for all he is worth, and it is considerable.

Slipping right into the fatback R&B groove of Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” (1969) penned by Leon Russell, Thomas opts for a more traditional sound with acoustic and electric slide guitars from McGee adding a nice, greasy down home touch. Rollicking and raucous without being bombastic, it is one of many highlights on the album as Thomas sings his big heart out, slyly changing the bridge lyric to,”…oh, when I’m home again in Georgia” instead of “…in England” that was appropriate to Cocker’s homeland.

In a trip west to Los Angeles by way of the Midwest of Bob Seger, Thomas again seems to be mining autobiographical territory with “Hollywood Nights” (1978). Going the gravel-throated Seger one better, he takes the dramatic, surging rock anthem past the Hollywood Hills to the peak of the San Bernardino Mountains with his unstoppable vocal power that rises from a whisper to a full out, breathtaking wail that matches the ‘singing’ tenor sax of Bill Slais.

A shift in gears to Canadian Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” (1991) is another natural fit for the versatile Thomas and his eclectic tastes.

Jumping genres like an Olympic hurdler, Thomas next takes on the bone crushing, hard rock of AC/DC and their relatively light-hearted “Moneytalks” (1990). The band enthusiastically turns the heavy “pop rock” into a romping, fist-pumping, testosterone-fueled track. Thomas does a spot-on, tongue-in-cheek impersonation of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson while also injecting his own inimitable exuberance and irrepressible soulfulness as McGee howls on slide like a Tasmanian Devil.

“Tempted” (1981), from Squeeze, the British New Wavers, was their take on “blue-eyed soul” and it allows Thomas to figuratively put on a skinny tie and sing an ironic love song. As is his wont and likely beyond his control as it is in his DNA, he ups the soul ante incrementally while the band exhibits more energy compared to the studied insouciance of the original.

Given his predilection for the Beatles, it is only right that Thomas should end with George Harrison’s “Wah Wah” (1970) that seems to be about not needing a lot of things – drugs, fame, hassles, the material world etc. Whereas the original is an almost cacophonous whirlwind of voices and instruments, including the ubiquitous wah wah pedal played by Eric Clapton, here the arrangement is cleaner and tighter, while again Thomas gets far inside the song and rides the angular harmony of the progression in order to express the profound philosophy of the lyric content.

Fine wine mellows and improves with age, as do many great singers.

The great and fine Mickey Thomas, however, continues to improve while leaving the concept of ‘mellow’ for others to ponder as he refuses to allow the passage of time to halt the pursuit of his musical goals.

On “Marauder”, Thomas proudly proclaims his identity as a musician dedicated to giving his audience the full measure of his vast artistic accomplishments.

The power and strength of his vocal gifts insures that he will continue to rock on far into the future.

Great album.

01 – Gimme Shelter

02 – Slaedgehammer

03 – Maybe I’m Amazed

04 – Champagne Supernova

05 – Rain

06 – Chasing Cars

07 – Across The Universe

08 – Supermassive Black Hole

09 – Voices

10 – Oh! Darling

11 – Delta Lady

12 – Hollywood Nights

13 – Life Is A Highway [feat. Jay Dot]

14 – Moneytalks

15 – Tempted

16 – Wah Wah

Mickey Thomas – vocals, acoustic guitar, background vocals

Jeff Tamelier – guitar, keyboards, background vocals

Mark McGee, Walter Bare – guitars

Bobby Vega – bass, background vocals

Peter DeLeon, Phil Bennett, Alan Koshiyama – keyboards

James Preston, Serge Lysak, Andre Nedeoglo, Prairie Prince – drums

Mitchell Koulouris – percussion

Jimi Jameson, Bobby Kimball, Dwight Twilley, Alex Ligertwood – backing vocals



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