When blues diva Ida Cox sang “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” in 1924, she defiantly stated the obvious while providing the template for the hellions who followed, including Memphis Minnie and Sister Rosetta Tharpe on down to Janis Joplin. Now, fiery blues and R&B singer/guitarist Kirsten Thien blazes on the scene and stakes her claim as a contemporary wild woman while putting a decidedly modern spin on the description. She was born on an Army base in Berlin, Germany, but moved back to the US shortly thereafter and her family settled in Maine. The music of Linda Ronstadt and singing in church in the “Northern Baptist” style helped to develop her talent until she was transformed when she discovered Aretha Franklin, traditional New Orleans jazz and the classic women blues singers of the 20s while attending Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The thrill of performing in public compelled her to abandon pursuit of a lucrative career in banking and investment for a creative one in singing and songwriting. Thien relocated to New York City, forming her own band in 2000 and releasing her debut She Really Is in 2001. She began seriously wood shedding the guitar around 2005 as well as reworking her songwriting, strongly influenced by the Memphis sound (Otis Redding, B.B. King and Al Green). On the merits of her 2006 sophomore release, You’ve Got Me, Thien won the Abe Olman Award for Excellence in Songwriting in 2009.
Delicious, her third release, finds Thien alternately ripping and seducing her way through an 11-song set featuring eight tunes that she either wrote or co-wrote, plus three covers. Erik Boyd (producer, bass) arranged the band for each song to blend the talents of the core road band consisting of David Patterson (guitar), Johnny Pisano (bass) and Dylan Wissing (drums), together with NYC session cats from her 2006 recording, Steve Holley (drums), Tommy Mandel (keyboard and Hammond organ), Kent Smith (trumpet), Andy Snitzer (saxophone) and Mike Freeman (vibraphone). Adding to the mix are veteran blues heavyweights, Arthur Neilson (guitar), Billy Gibson (harmonica) and Hubert Sumlin (guitar). The return of Grammy nominated recording and mixing engineer Dan Myers rounded out the team.
“Love That’s Made to Share” is her original horn-driven R&B strutter co-authored by Boyd. With confidence and self-empowerment she demands love from the object of her desire as Sumlin and Neilson trade licks to contribute a sly, slinky solo in support of her passion. “Nobody’s Ever Loved Me Like You Do,” co-penned with Noel Cohen, is a velvety smooth slice of 70s Memphis soul that finds Thien flaunting her stunning vocal chops from a shout to an intimate aside. She is a fine, intelligent wordsmith with a knack for turning a surprising phrase as when she sings, “I don’t mean to get too existential, about what you mean to me.” Her original “Please Drive” takes a classic, sexy “hoochie mama” Chicago blues stop-time vamp as picked by dangerous NYC guitarist Arthur Neilson. Crafting an unbridled anthem to lust with driving as a metaphor, she delivers the leering lyric in a manner that smolders with high octane heat as Hubert Sumlin again shows how “less is more” when each note is invested with unparalleled depth and emotion. “Taxi Love” by Jon Tiven and Charlie Feldman continues the theme of the car as a symbol and literal repository of cheap thrills. Anyone who has ever fantasized about a “roll in the hay” in the backseat of an NYC taxi can live it out safely by vicariously enjoying the illicit adventure Thien describes in vivid detail.
The exuberant title track by Thien and Cohen lifts the proceedings with gospel fervor, exultant backing vocals from Susan Didrichsen and the tastiest lead guitar lines from Neilson. Referencing Adam and Eve, Thien uses food as the metaphor for love making this time out and when she declares, “Your love is so delicious,” you know she is not talking about apples! Turning the heat down briefly Thien testifies, “I raise my right hand and say I love you” on the gentle, confessional soul ballad “Ain’t That the Truth,” co-written with Erik Boyd and dripping heartfelt truth and sincerity. Opening “Treat ‘im Like a Man” with “So you think your man was property, that’s why he went out with me,” Thien makes it clear in no uncertain terms how she stole away a man, while giving hard-earned advice to the lovelorn in the dynamic breakdown. Intensifying the rocking energy is the snarling electric guitar of Patterson, her ace, right-hand string man.
Just in case anyone should miss the point, Thien actually covers “Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues” in an acoustic guitar and harmonica duet with Memphis virtuoso Billy Gibson. Much like Elvis did on his early rockabilly singles, Thien strums her axe with pumping propulsion and determination to carry the rhythm sans additional accompaniment. Cruising forward chronologically through the history of the blues, she covers the Willie Dixon classic “I Ain’t Superstitious” with just Arthur Neilson and drummer Dylan Wissing along for the ride. Thien’s inspiration, The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions, is coupled with Boyd’s crafted instrumentation for a Hound Dog Taylor sound, while Neilson eggs on Thien to let loose her own snarling blues voice.
Her “A Woman Knows” shows Thien in an authentic country vein that could attract attention in Nashville with its memorable vocal hook complemented by an appropriately weepy slide guitar. Tammy Wynette would be proud to hear Thien proclaim, “I would take you back, if you leave, you know I would” and “You can count on me, because a woman knows when her love is meant to be.”
“Get Outta the Funk, Get into the Groove” by Thien, Galia Arad and Boyd is a mind bending 180 degrees from “A Woman Knows.” With her apparently boundless musical curiosity, Thien figuratively shakes her booty in conjunction with Neilson and his wah wah guitar while exhorting her audience to get out of their emotional funk and into a good groove. As the last track, it is the perfect climax to a CD that exemplifies the spirit, if not the letter of the blues, by taking the listener up, down and all around while leaving them stimulated mentally, if not physically.