With the release of the James Thomas Band’s latest, perfectly titled album The Loves of My Life and its simmering, heart-tugging lead single “Eileen,” the multi-talented Virginia based soul-blues rocker continues to ride the wave of an inspiring career renaissance.
The 11-track album, which will also soon be available in Europe in a collectible, special limited vinyl edition, features Thomas’ explosive new lineup of renowned veteran guitarist/producer Andre Ferreri, lead guitarist, bassist, drummer and keyboardist Mat Sigmon and lead guitarist Alan Rueda, who began performing in bands with Thomas when the two were in their late teens.
Ferreri and Sigmon are graduates of the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston. Ferreri has multi-genre history that extends back several decades and includes performing with the funk/soul band Powerhouse and jazz/rock instrumental group Airstreeam, performing with the Charlotte Symphony and Greensboro Symphony and doing sessions and live performances with legendary artists like Brook Benton, Maurice Williams, Dave Valentin, Herbie Mann and Sam Moore. Rueda’s electric guitar expertise and years of performing experience mirrors and complements the explosive power of Ferrari and Sigmon’s formal jazz-based education to create Thomas’ most potent lineup yet.
With a previous lineup featuring keyboardist/bassist/drummer David Floyd and guitarist Pat Walters, the James Thomas Band broke through to independent success in 2010 with the multi-faceted concept album The Courthouse and the Redemption. Produced by Thomas, who sang lead and played acoustic guitar, the recording, driven by country rock foundations heavily seasoned with blues/rock influences, earned the group an enthusiastic following in Europe – and, for Thomas, the unique experience of being a middle-aged musician earning a following dominated by fans of the ages 13-18. The music of the James Thomas Band is particularly popular in Spain, Italy (from Sicily to Milan), Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
In the handful of years since the release of The Courthouse and the Redemption, the James Thomas Band has evolved significantly. “My challenge was to build on the success of that earlier album, and with this current ensemble, we’ve really come together as a cohesive band with great chemistry these past few years and are looking forward to getting out and sharing the new songs live,” Thomas says. “The Loves of My Life is more focused than the ‘Courthouse’ album, which had me exploring all kinds of genres, from jazz to blues to pop. Because I grew up in Durham, that country twang will always be a part of me, yet as a unit we’re all about soulful blues-rock and we wanted this album and all future recordings to reflect what we’re really great at.
“I think ‘Eileen’ in particular will open up our sound to audiences on both sides of the Pond,” he adds. “It resonates as a rocker, a country song and a pop tune, and allowed my voice to be at its most emotional. I think people are responding to it so positively because it tells a good story. This takes me back to my earliest country influences, including Hank Williams, Sr., who was a masterful storyteller. That’s basically what country music is about. When I originally wrote ‘Eileen,’ I didn’t realize it would become such a meaningful song to people. Yet it resonates because it’s honest and true and really strikes a chord.”
Many years ago, Thomas had several near misses – including almost signing a deal in Nashville – but a difficult encounter with a record company executive changed his mind. The seeds of his comeback began in the late 2000s, a few years after the passing of his wife of 25 years. Still in a dark place and emotionally distant from his vibrant, earlier musical lifetimes, he ran into his longtime friend David Floyd, who convinced him to start writing music again. To jump start his creativity, Thomas, despite his initial skepticism, posted songs from his long ago released album Ocean Song online – and quickly hit the viral jackpot. In its first two months, over 227,000 listened to the resurrected recording, resulting in an astounding 1.5 million-plus plays.
“Making music on my own terms now, I can enjoy my success much more than I could have in those days,” he adds. “Back then, I had no objectivity and I was not as strong and refined a songwriter as I am today. I would just throw out the first thing that popped into my head and go with it. Now I carefully craft every single word and feel like I can communicate my feelings so much better. I’ve always understood the impact of music, but now I understand the power of words and always keep in mind how people will receive and relate to them.”