Now Playing: Pete Thelen’s ‘Best For Last’ 

Image courtesy of Doug Deutsch Publicity Services

American singer-songwriter and bluesman Pete Thelen has released a new album. It’s titled Best For Last. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.

Pete Thelen

Image courtesy of Cynthia Hoffman

According to his official website and other sources, Pete Thelen was born in Chicago in 1949. “He spent his first seventeen years there, listening to rock and roll and raising a bit of hell, before leaving home to join the Army.” His first band, formed upon his return home, was called the Here After.

Thelen also wrote and produced music while working as a “part-owner of Crystal Recording. With the studio’s co-owner Charlie Prazma.” In the 1980s his co-composition, “Welcome Home,” was featured in the well-known POW/MIA campaign.

He relocated and formed the Arizona-based Blues Dinosaurs with his pal Greg 1995. His rockin’ resume also includes several previous platters including the now out of print Pete & Mike & The Off Center Band, 2005’s Kaleidoscope: Musicians of Door County and the more experimental LP Travels to the Edge which dropped in 2010.

Signature sound

Pete Thelen’s signature sound is a blend of blues styles, folk and other musical influences dating back to his childhood when he would listen to rock ‘n’ roll music on a transistor radio his parents bought for him when he was 10.  

Best For Last

This 12-track disc is said to be his final project. Thelen generally leads the way with his blues-tinged vocals, he also occasionally steps aside to let other artists perform his songs. The album also features Bennie Hughes (saxophone), Annie Dekom (vocals), Charlie Prazma (guitars). Lester Chambers of The Chambers Brothers (vocals), Rena Haus (vocals), former Howlin’ Wolf percussionist Chico Chism (drums), KK Martin (guitar) Mike Shellans (piano), Mike King (accordion and bass), John Hoffman IV (drums), Linda Moss (vocals), Jim Massoth (tenor sax), co-producer Hans Christian (cello, piano, and nyckelharpa). John Reuter (slide guitar), Mark Raddatz (guitar), Paul Sowinski (upright bass), pAt mAcdonald (cigar box), and more.

Track by Track

The album opens on “You Make It Easy.” It does have an easy, laidback feel to it. An early fan favorite, this one is vaguely reminiscent of early Bobby “Blue” Bland.

It’s followed by “Some Kind Of Sign” which received some early positive critical reactions. It comes complete with Dekom’s powerful vocals and keeps the flow going.

Next things slow down a bit with a spot-on rendition of Thelen’s mournful “Wind Up From Mexico.”  

“Part-Time Love” features another feminine touch thanks to Haus. It has a fitting, effective melody and you can practically picture this one being performed in a little smoke-filled lounge somewhere.

Thelen is back on “Get’n Down To Business.” It’s an unexpected duet with the above-mentioned performing pal King. The unusual addition of the accordion adds a refreshing almost zydeco element to this soulful selection.  

We take a “trip” with “VooDoo King.” It has a strange although surprisingly workable contrast of psychedelic guitar and traditional military drumbeat. Enjoy this eerie audio offering about one of the darker inhabitants of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

The seventh selection is “Storm ‘A Brewin.” here we have one final feminine touch thanks to Moss in a stinging track in which all the elements musically come together is a slow brew all its own.

“Lost & Found” seems less about the blues and more about smooth jazz. But who cares? It works.

“Move On” is one of those songs that walks the razor’s edge between being derivative and inspired and comes up on the right side. Like all the other cuts here, it is an original Thelen composition and yet it’s friendly enough to somehow sound familiar.

“Spider Lake Woman” follows. This is what some might call a spooky blues bit. This is emphasized not only by a certain musical mystique but also by Thelen’s lyrics which tell the tale of a dark lady one would probably want to avoid.   

Also included here is “New Pain.” This blues-tinged track lopes and sways and no doubt works well getting a live audience to move.   

The album endnote is the beautiful “Thought Passing Through.” It’s an almost melancholic, sincere slow song born of being on the road and would no about evoke feelings of familiarity from any struggling touring musician. Of course, in a universal sense, it also speaks of what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.  

Overall . . .

Overall, this is a successful swan song. It is a blues-focused CD with an interesting mix of songs both old and new. It is exceptionally refreshing in presentation, in that Thelen is going out in a shared spotlight. Half of the tracks are recorded by other artists so the listener can experience Thelen’s material through the performing prism of other entertainers.

Thelen adds “[It’s] my last album. It’s comprised of 12 songs, 6 recorded by other artists, and 6 by yours truly.” He concludes: “I titled this album Best for Last because it is.” So check out Pete Thelen’s Best For Last and listen to Thelen and friends “Get’n Down To Business.”