White men can play the blues. Sure, there's not the built-in authenticity of their genre-creating black counterparts, but it can be done. Rock & roll's mere existence is proof. Vocalist and harmonica player Kim Wilson -- best known as the frontman of the Fabulous Thunderbirds -- offers a wide-ranging blues workout on his 2001 live solo album, Smokin' Joint. Wilson recorded Smokin' Joint with two different bands over four nights. He captured shows on February 26 and 27, 1999 at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, AZ, and December 8 and 9, 2000 at Cafe Boogaloo in Hermosa Beach, CA. The 13 songs are a blend of originals, covers, and traditional blues standards. Wilson used the same rhythm section of bassist Larry Taylor and drummer Richard Innes in both bands. Guitarists Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn performed at The Rhythm Room gigs while guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Troy Gonyea, and pianist Mark Stevens were featured at the Cafe Boogaloo shows. "Ain't Gonna Do It," "Oh Baby," "Got to Let You Go," and "I Can Tell" have a jazzy, shuffle-inflected kick, whereas "Good Time Charlie," "Early in the Morning," "Telephone Blues," and "High & Lonesome" follow the standard, slow-burn blues format. Among Wilson's originals are "Smokin' Joint," an instrumental with a '50s rock & roll flavor, and "Learn to Treat Me Right," which progresses into a '60s R&B/rock & roll vibe. Overall, Wilson's rich, rumbling voice and harmonica playing are in fine form. He doesn't break any new ground on Smokin' Joint -- unlike the Fabulous Thunderbirds' hits such as "Tuff Enuff," "Wrap It Up" and "Powerful Stuff," in which polished blues muscled onto the pop charts -- but its greater purpose is to keep this kind of music alive.
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AllMusic Review by Bret Adams