--Mick Rainsford, Blues In Britain Magazine, Issue March 15,2003
“School For Fools” serves as my introduction to the talents of Larry Thurston, a singer who joined Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s band in 1986, and who, in 1989, followed him when he rejoined The Blues Brothers Band, fronting the band along with Eddie Floyd or Sam Moore until 1994.
I don’t know if this is Thurston’s recording debut, but the background information explains that, Thurston was chosen by Jeff Alexander, who wrote all of the songs on this set (sub-titled “the songs of Jeff Alexander”), as he believed that Thurston responded (positively) to his blues. Cousin Moe Music is Alexander’s own label and he has gone to great lengths to ensure, with what I assume is the label’s first release, that it makes an immediate and positive impression; recruiting artists like Levon Helm, Johnnie Johnson, Gus Thornton (ex Albert King, SRV and Katie Webster), Keith Doder (harmonica), Arthur Neilson (Shemekia Copeland), Jeremy Baum (Debbie Davis, Sue Foley), Arno Hecht (James Brown, J Geils, Joe Cocker, Albert Collins) and Dona Oxford (Shemekia again, and also impressive at the recent Blues Estafette), and a clutch of other talented musicians and vocalists, to provide the canvas for his songs and Thurston’s vocals.
“School For Fools” is a diverse collection of deep blues, soul and R&B, that is ideally suited to Thurston’s rich and soulful vocals, from the title track, a soul inflected blues riding a mesmerizing horn riff, to the soul infused, Muddy influenced “Lost Dog Blues”, which features some keening slide from Jimmy Eppard. Rich McDonough’s mellow slide is prominent on the slow grind of “Gravediggin’ Man”, which, again, rides a Muddyesque bass riff. Thurston's vocals take on a sly and mellower feel, echoed by Oxford’s piano and Neilson’s guitar on the Charles Brown influenced “Blues To Go”; whilst on the jaunty 50’s styled R&B of “Warning Shot”, the playful vocals lie in stark contrast to the hard riffing horn charts.
The churning R&B of “Seventeen Years”, with it’s rolling piano and gospel inflected background vocals, the doomladen “My Woman Left Me”, and the rollicking R&B of “Blues For Brooklyn”, with it’s hot slide and rocking piano, are further highlights of this fine set.
Alexander’s fine songwriting deserves special mention, his penchant for insightful lyrics aptly demonstrated on the anguished soul blues, “You Don’t Know Who You Are”, when Thurston sings “You don’t have to be a cannibal to feed on someone’s heart; lazy, careless people have it down to an art”.
--Bob Reichers, "Nighthawks," WOMR-FM, 92.1, Provincetown, Mass (webcasting world-wide at www.womr.org)
"School for Fools" is the brainchild of multi-talented songwriter / producer Jeff Alexander, and it is one of those great recordings that come around once in a very blue moon. Featuring the vocal talents of Larry Thurston, the real draw for me on this recording was the involvement of the great Levon Helm. Since his days with The Band, Helm has consistantly been one of the most innovative drummers in the business and always one of musics great vocalists. Although a bout with cancer silenced his singing a few years back, his drumming is better than ever, and he certainly lends a groove to the proceedings that are hard to equal. The other "Hall of famer" who makes an appearance on a couple of tracks is the legendary Johnnie Johnson on piano. Johnson, who was embroiled with a legal battle with Chuck Berry during the making of these recordings, lends his unique keyboard playing to two of the tracks (you have to hear him and Levon together on "Happy Hour" !)and he is, as always, amazing.
Recorded in New York and St Louis, "School for Fools" is a must-have if you are a fan of the blues. Although only available through the internet at this time, it is a collection of songs that is worth tracking down-hopefully some hip record company in the not-to-distant future will give this release the distribution it deserves.
Jeff Alexander has really put together a winner--cant wait to hear what he has up his sleeve for the next one! "School for Fools"...go get it.
--Vince Cheney. www.thebluessite.com
".... great music that reminds me of the days of Stax, Albert King and ZZ Hill (sometimes all in the same tune). My hat goes off to the band and Jeff Alexander (credited as song writer and producer) cause it's loaded with constancy and direction.. Overall- a polished, straight forward mix that's got a good feel and a lot of soul. They can turn any standard shuffle into a party. All together it's a great CD featuring several great artists expressing humor, soul and honest testimony to the blues in more than one occasion."
....A CD with as big of a line-up as the Tonight's Show and as much rhythm as the Three Stooges (even with a little humor). Polish up them two tone shoes and slide out on that floor, when Mr. Thurston walks through
--Mark Gould, Soundwaves Magazine
There’s nothing finer than a really good blues singer’s interpretation of, well, really good blues songs. And, in singer Larry Thurston’s easily assured performances and songwriter Jeff Alexander’s tunes, the combination really cooks.
In a straight-ahead, confident approach to these songs, Thurston manages to coax just about every nuance he can from them. And, since Alexander wrote them so well, Thurston’s job is just that much easier.
Thurston, who used to work with Matt Guitar Murphy and the Blues Brothers, tackles the soul, blues and R&B influenced songs with the self-assuredness of a singer who knows where he wants to go. Backing him is a crackerjack band of blues professionals, including Band drummer Levon Helm and the incomparable pianist Johnnie Johnson, from Chuck Berry’s seminal recordings.
It’s a sometimes tricky proposition to have one singer come into a studio and interpret one writer’s work. Yet, here, the experience and talent of both the singer, Thurston, and the writer, Alexander, make it work.
--Gordon Baxter, Blues On Stage, www.mnblues.com
Larry Thurston first came to public attention in the mid 1980's when he began singing with Matt Guitar Murphy. After a subsequent stint with the Blues Brothers Band, he gave up performing live. He now mostly divides his time between a daytime job and being an assistant pastor in his local church. He still does a bit of singing, however, and was happy to take the lead for Jeff Alexander's latest blues project, "School For Fools," mostly in the company of Levon Helm.
The album opens with "Brokenhearted and Broke," a classy blues, which shows Thurston as a fine singer in possession of a rich baritone voice. There is also some neat guitar work from Rich McDonough, who plays on most of the tracks here, which hints at Albert King. Jimmy Eppard takes over on guitar for the second tune, "You Know Who You Are," where a change of tone accompanies a change of tempo as things get taken down low.
Alexander's songs deal with many familiar blues topics, as epitomized by "My Woman Left Me" whose title could be applied to hundreds (if not thousands) of blues songs. This is a terrific tune and Thurston's vocals make it easy to imagine someone like Bobby Bland picking up on it. More generally, the songs cover a range of styles including the standard 12-bar of "Lost Dog Blues," with its nicely understated slide guitar, and the shuffle of the title track which is rounded out with horns (saxes) and Hammond organ. Whatever the style and topic, however, the quality of the delivery never wavers.
The pick of the tracks are the two where Johnnie Johnson guests on piano. The first of these, "Warning Shot," is a comparatively laid back affair, featuring some classy sax from Arno Hecht. Things then shift up a few gears into more familiar Johnson territory for "Happy Hour," with its rocking groove, which neatly combines Johnson's piano with Keith Doder's harp. Things then cool down as a late night blues feeling is established for the appositely entitled "Blues To Go" which brings proceedings to a close.
"School For Fools" is a fine CD. Although ostensibly credited to Larry Thurston, who does a fine job on vocals, the defining vision is that of producer Jeff Alexander who also wrote all the songs. Even though a total of 18 musicians were used in various combinations, there is a consistently high level to the quality of the music. Apparently, Alexander has more blues stuff in the pipeline. If it is all as good as "School For Fools" it will be worth keeping an eye (and an ear) out for.
--Phil Knipe, Radio KLFM, Bendigo, Australia
"....The standard of the disc's twelve original compositions is uniformly high, featuring memorable tunes and clever, thoughtful lyrics laced with a nice dash of humour. The musical accompaniement to Larry's warm, powerful... vocals is provided by a highly talented group of musicians including players the calibre of former Band drummer Levon Helm, and the legendary Johnnie Johnson on the 88s....There's an underlying strength and muscularity to the performances....that'll keep your feet tapping and sustain your attention right til the very last note."
--Chris Puyear, www.moblues.com
This CD is something different, so I barely know where to start. School For Fools is a CD by many artists performing the music of Jeff Alexander, with vocals by Larry Thurston. The music is played by, well…. about everybody who is anybody in blues. The band behind this consists of 18 different musicians who have all paid their dues, some names you may know right off, some not, but this band is a class act.
Larry Thurston has been around for awhile, he was the singer for Matt "Guitar" Murphy’s band in the 80s. Although he retired in ’94, Larry came out for this CD; Levon Helm (of The Band) on drums; Johnnie Johnson on the 88s on a couple of tracks; Keith Doder (Jimmy Rogers band) on harmonica; Gus Thornton ( played with Albert King & SRV) is the bassman; Arthur Neilson (Shemekia Copeland Band) plays lead on a couple of tracks. The list just goes on and on -- lots of solid musicians doing what they do best.
Larry has one of those big, full voices, really smooth, he makes singing sound easy. Jeff’s songs run the gambit of blues….. women, lovin’, heartbreak, boozing, gun shots and gravediggin’,( not in that order J ). And this is a good thing -- what the blues is all about, the ups & downs of life.
This CD has an old familiar sound, good old style blues. You would think you were listening to an older band that had been together a long time, even the lyrics seem to be seasoned, but at the same time it is all new -- new lyrics, new music. Jeff produced this CD too and did a good job.
A lot of artists make new music that sounds new. Too many make their music so new that they seem to forget what it is supposed to be, but Jeff has accomplished something outstanding -- the combination of seasoned musicians and Jeff’s "new music" was a good match -- "new" music that sounds familiar. You don’t have to listen to it a dozen times to get the feel, this CD hits you right the first time out.
--Gert Tabloom, Roots Town Music Free Zine, Belgium
"..Larry Thurston's...back to give voice to a dozen songs of Alexander....A warm, genuine voice that sometimes made me think of Big George Jackson, and once in a while also Lou Rawls, when he's singing in the lower regions...."
--Sauce Magazine,St. Louis, Mo.
" Blueswriter Jeff Alexander, dividing his time between Brooklyn, New York and St. Louis, has poured his heart into a winner. He has gathered together some of both regions' blues greats....Alexander puts together one of the best blues albums of the year."
--Mary C., The Roadhouse, KOPN FM, Columbia, Mo.
"School For Fools, Songs of Jeff Alexander " is a superb new blues CD with down to earth lyrics from the heart that anyone can relate to. Larry Thurston's rich, smooth vocals pour the songs out in an easy, comfortable way that made me at home with this CD the first time I heard it. School for Fools immediately became a staple on my play list!"
--Henry Ayrton, Northern Blues Radio, BBC, England
" ....As well as featuring plenty of good blues, this album also contains some arresting and interesting songwriting..."
--F. Sweet, St Louis, Mo., a top 500 reviewer at Amazon.com (March 8, 2003)
JEFF ALEXANDER'S BLUES AND ST. LOUIS: A NEW SOUND:
My wife (a filmmaker) and I had the radio tuned to KDHX. But each of us was in a different part of St. Louis. I was at home and she was in her car driving home.
Over the air came the incredible voice of Larry Thurston singing "Gravediggin' Man." I had not heard of SCHOOL FOR FOOLS, but I know what I like. This was great blues music at its best.
Soon my wife arrived, exclaiming: "Did you hear that?! Did you hear that?"
"Did I hear what?" I asked not knowing what she was so excited about.
"That's MY music!" she contiuned. What she was trying to tell me is that after more than a year of searching for music tracks to lay down for her new documentary film, "WHO'S MINDING THE MEDIA?" [about journalism for which St. Louis is "ground zero"] she had finally found it. The kicker is that some of this music had been produced in St. Louis. After contacting Jeff Alexander for production rights which he granted she put his music in her film. And I'll tell you something folks, it MAKES the film --- soon to be seen on cable and public TV.
Of course, since that fateful day, I've listened to all the songs on Jeff Alexander's CD from "Brokenhearted and Broke" to " Blues To Go." They cover the range of styles variously featuring, aside from vocals, slide guitar, horns, saxophones and organ. The music and its reproduction are of the highest quality . While I am not a so-called Blues expert, I know what I like --- and I know what's good. What can Isay? The music in SCHOOL FOR FOOLS is absolutely great!
Living Blues Magazine, #169, Sept./Oct. 2003
by Andria Lisle
School For Fools is a unique collaboration between a handful of talents, including songwriter Jeff Alexander and vocalist Larry Thurston. The sessions, recorded in St. Louis, feature a veritable blues who's-who of the Show-Me State. Legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson sits in on a couple of songs (the cautionary blues Warning Shot and the rockin' Happy Hour), while Tom Maloney and Rich McDonough handle the guitar duties on the majority of these 12 tracks. Arkansas Barnburner -and former Band drummer-Levon Helm provides the steady back beat, along with bassist Gus Thornton (alumnus of Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan's bands), while such special guests as guitarist Arthur Nielson and pianist Dona Oxford (both of Shemekia Copeland's band) add some spice to this musical recipe.
Thurston-the onetime frontman for Matt "Guitar" Murphy, and, more prominently, the Blues Brothers-has his act down pat. Handpicked by songwriter, arranger, and producer Jeff Alexander for his versatility, the singer ably swings and struts through gruff Chicago blues and West Coast R&B with energy to spare. From the hard-hitting soul of the title track on through the energetic closer Blues To Go, Thurston proves his flexibility again and again, vamping on tunes like the R&B bounce Blues For Brooklyn then turning on the faucets for such straight blues weepers as the Delta-tinged 12-bar Lost Dog Blues and the axe-grinding Gravediggin' Man.
But the real visionary on School For Fools is Jeff Alexander. Employing more than a dozen musicians for these sessions, Alexander has managed to make a nifty album that more than adequately showcases his talents as a songwriter and arranger. With tunes that harken back to the glory days of Stax and Malaco--and a crackerjack band to perform them--Alexander manages to bring that classic soul-blues sound into the 21st Century.