Review by Fred Rudofsky
Sporting a top hat and vest, Grammy-winning artist Chris Thomas King – perhaps best known to casual music fans for his role as Tommy Johnson in the Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” – played a diverse set of songs for an appreciative crowd at The Linda last weekend.
Born Chris Thomas, and taking the regal surname (as a likely homage to Albert, B.B., Freddie and Earl) in the 1990s, King has been surrounded by music since he was born. His father, Tabby Thomas, had regional hits in Louisiana and later ran a juke joint, Tabby’s Blues Box, for decades. King spent a good deal of his early adulthood playing at the legendary Antone’s in Austin, backing some of the greatest in the blues.
The past three years have been prolific for King, who has put his acting career on hold to pursue his blues (and at times, country) muse. Strapping on a Strat, he and his virtuoso band – Jeff Mills on drums and Danny Infante on five-string bass – opened with Antebellum Postcards’ “How Does It Feel”, a terse, vivid look at the state of the economy as the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. “St. James Infirmary” featured a dazzling extended introduction and fine vocal, too. “Want to Die with a Smile on My Face”, the song that was nearly a hit for King in the early 1990s (this reviewer still remembers King’s performance on the Letterman show), exuded a plaintive, funky vibe that in a nightclub setting would have had couples out on the floor. “Baptized in Dirty Water” brought a surreal feel, lyrically, with King declaiming “dirty water, come rushing in/ wash away my happy home/wash away my sins.” Given that he is a fan of the late Hubert Sumlin, King’s take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor” was welcomed by all. He sported a smile, playing that riff that Sumlin no doubt himself had shown him years ago in Texas.