CD Review: Bill Toms “Memphis”

During his time as a musician, Bill Toms experienced a lot, including working with the one and only Bruce Springsteen. It was “The Boss” who helped produce an album for Toms’ former band, The Houserockers. As a solo artist, Bill Toms has been making a name for himself, thanks in part to his 2010 album, Live at Moondogs: Another Moonlight Mystery.

Bill Toms recently travelled from his home in Pittsburgh to Nashville to put the finishing touches on a new release. That album, 2011’s Memphis, is a solid effort and is varied enough to keep the listener anticipating the next track thanks to the creative energy that flows through the tracks that make up the album.

Toms’ new release of Memphis begins with the “title track,” “I Won’t Go to Memphis No More”. While the lyrics of the song suggest that, for personal reasons, it may not be smart to return to that city, the music of the track seems to have been very much influenced by the city itself. The song contains a large amount of Soul flavor thanks in part to the efforts of producer/multi-instrumentalist (and recording artist in his own right) Will Kimbrough. While Toms makes the promise of “I Won’t Go…..,”  the song sure makes it feel as if he had been there.

As is a follow-up to the first track, “Colleen, Goodbye” feels like Toms is keeping his promise to the statement in the first track by leaving for good. The track adds just a touch of sadness to this new release. The music also contains some moving playing by Kimbrough on the mandolin.

Continuing the feeling after promising to leave and saying “goodbye,” Bill Toms offers up the track “Misery”. The Blues-inspired track really brings home the emotions Toms is feeling at that point. The resonator guitar on the track adds just enough of the Blues to have you wishing that the musicians would stay in that frame of mind. But as this isn’t a Blues album, that glimpse into what could have been has to be enough.

The style of the music changes once again, as Toms offers up a track with some spiritual feeling to it with the song “On the Road to Freedom”.  The organ and harmonica in the music add to the spiritual lyrics about heading to a better place.

It’s on the song “Waiting on the Pain” that Memphis from Bill Toms returns to a Soul-influenced direction in the music. “Waiting on the Pain” feels like a group effort as many of the musicians creating the music for this track take turns adding solos to the track. The harmonica playing of Marc Reisman, the saxophone playing of Phil Brontz, the organ playing from “Sudden” Steve Binsberger and guitar from Mark Cholewski create a jam band feeling to make the listener feel as if they are experiencing the band on stage.

On the song “Tear This Old House Down,” the entire musical landscape of the
album changes. The music of the song slows down the pace of the release. It is
on this song that two musicians take center stage: “Sudden” Steve Binsberger
plays the piano and David Henry arranged and played the strings to the song as
Toms sings the lyrics to the track. The strings and piano create a beautiful tune to compliment the powerful lyrics of the song written by Toms.

The energy of the album returns in a big way with the song “Lord, Don’t take me Now”. The song about a man experiencing the high point in his life and not willing to die at that moment features some of the most powerful music on the entire album, making you believe the pleads of the singer.

That same energy continues with the song “I’ve Made Peace Now”. While the music
to this song is calming and beautiful, it’s Toms’ delivery of the lyrics that is full of energy as he sings about coming to terms “with the stranger in me,” as the lyrics say. The piano of Binberger and saxophone of Phil Brontz add to the beauty of Toms’ lyrics.

Memphis from Bill Toms is a very powerful release. The words of Toms are very
passionate in their meaning at times while very powerful at others. And while the songs and talent of Bill Toms are what is important, the album would not be as solid without the help of people like pianist “Sudden” Steve Binsberger, harmonica player Marc Reisman, guitarist Mark Cholewski and drummer Bernie Herr, as well as all the rest. Without these musicians and especially producer/multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough. This new release from Bill Toms gives the listener countless reasons to just sit back and enjoy.

CLICK HERE to see the video to “I Won’t Go to Memphis No More”.

 

Bill Toms recently came to Cleveland, Ohio to perform. When he took to the stage area in The Barking Spider, it was just Toms on acoustic guitar and Bernie Herr (the same drummer from the Memphis release). While it was only just two men in concert, the set was still entertaining, thanks in part to the enthusiasm of Bill Toms. Because of the limited number of musicians on stage (again, only two), one might have expected the music to lack energy. However, Toms and Herr performed as though they were a full band.

During the concert, Bill Toms performed songs from several releases. However, it was the songs from Memphis that were most important as the album had just recently been released.

Some of the highlights of the night included:

“Lord, Don’t Take Me Now.” While performed on only Toms’ guitar and Herr’s drums, this song translated well live. Bill Toms gave everything he had as he sang the lyrics to this song. No energy was lost because of the limited staging of the night.

“I Won’t Go to Memphis No More”. The play between Toms and Herr on this performance made the live version as good as the full band version of the “title track” on the album.

“I’ve Made Peace Now”. As this song on the album is largely based around a piano, this was probably the most different of any of the songs performed that night since Bill Toms is a guitar player. The arrangement for guitar and drums created a version of the song that was just as beautiful as the full band version on the album. Toms and Herr worked well together on this song to make sure the tune was still powerful, despite the lack of other instruments such as the piano.

Whether Bill Toms had come with a full band or not, the duo of Toms and Herr did nothing to disappoint. It would have been nice to see and hear the songs performed with a complete band.
One day, maybe.

(Photo by Fred Maurer)

Check out Michael J. Media, Bill Toms’ PR firm.