Title: The Right Time
Artist: Ural Thomas & The Pain
Label: Tender Loving Empire
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: September 28, 2018
We’ve covered a number of artists over the past decide whose careers were revived later in life, including the late, great Charles Bradley. A similar artist who recently entered our radar is soul singer Ural Thomas, a Louisiana-born preacher’s son who opened for the likes of James Brown, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder back in the day. Thomas released a few singles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, most notably “Can You Dig It” with backing vocals by a power trio featuring Merry Clayton, Merry Wells and Brenda Halloway. But like countless artists before him, Thomas gave up on the music business, returning to Portland, Oregon where his family had relocated.
After several decades of performing only occasional gigs, Thomas’s break came when Eric Isaacson, owner of Portland’s Mississippi Records, reissued his out-of-print singles, which attracted considerable local attention. Soul DJ and drummer Soul DJ and drummer Scott Magee helped Thomas put together a backing band, the Pain, likely taking their name from Thomas’s 1967 single, “Pain Is the Name of Your Game.” Their self-titled debut was released in 2016 and around the same time, Thomas was featured on the local PBS program, Oregon Art Beat:
Now, two years later, as Thomas celebrates his 78th birthday, “Portland’s Pillar of Soul” returns with The Right Time, his first album of all original songs. In addition to Magee on drums and percussion, Thomas’s seven-piece backing band includes Bruce Withycombe (The Decemberists) on baritone sax, Portland jazz guitarist Brent Martens who doubles on vibes, bass player Arcellus Sykes, Steve Aman on keys, Dave Monnie on trumpet, Willie Matheis on tenor sax, plus backing vocalists and the Arco Quartet adding some smooth strings.
Thomas doesn’t venture far from his roots, offering 11 tracks of old-school R&B with a funky groove. Opening with “Slow Down,” Aman lays down the B3 tracks while Thomas hollers “slow down, let’s make it last.” On “No Distance (Between You & Me)” the female backing vocalists provide a Motown-style vibe, while “You Care Very Little” is a soulful tale of woe. “Smoldering Fire” gives us a taste of Thomas’s formative years singing doo-wop, with a voice that’s still supple and falsetto ready. One of the highlights is the title track, which harkens back to the James Brown era, while also incorporating contemporary funk and rock influences. The album closes with “Smile,” a heartfelt directive to chase away the blues, sung by a man who knows the power of positive thinking and the value of cherishing life’s finer moments.
Ural Thomas may have lived through plenty of pain in his life, but he didn’t let the music die. On The Right Time, Ural Thomas & The Pain deliver plenty of old school soul, spreading the love to a new generation of fans who just can’t seem to get enough.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss