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Thomas has the chops, needs exposure

By Earl Thomas

Memphis International Records: 2003

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This review first appeared in the Autumn 2003 issue of Turbula.

Earl Thomas has been a fixture of the San Diego music scene for the better part of the past 15 years. Along with Eve Selis, he's one of the top draws in the local club circuit.

He's also a top-flight songwriter – rivaling Buddy Blue as San Diego's best composer for his ability to craft gorgeous little gems of songs that stick in your head, songs that have been recorded by Etta James and Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Peter Green.

Thomas has even dabbled with a national presence a few times, releasing a few albums on Bizarre Records in the early 1990s.

But for whatever reasons, he keeps coming back to a being a very large fish in a not very large pond; he's yet to escape his San Diego orbit.

Which is too bad for Thomas – and even worse for all the listeners out there who've not been exposed to his brand of soul.

For what his latest release, "Soul'd!", shows is that Thomas' knack for turning out catchy songs and riveting performances has only gotten better through the years.

While Thomas is keen to credit Ike and Tina Turner for influencing him as a musician, he's in his own space as a singer. Sure, there are traces of Otis Redding and the Temptations and the Isleys in his performance – but it's all wrapped up in a style that is so wholly, completely Earl Thomas than it seems silly to try to compare him to anyone else. His is a full-throated, energetic and passionate approach – and one that sets him far apart from any crowd.

As a songwriter, Thomas possesses that ever-rare touch that allows him to write tunes that are both immediately accessible and interesting enough to hold your interest the next time you hear them. His best compositions are so perfectly balanced, so beautifully faceted that it seems they must have been run through a machine shop.

"I'm Broken Hearted" on the new album is one of those songs – hook-filled melody, sharp horn charts, funky beat. It's just a perfect little pop song – and the album has a couple more of those, a few outstanding covers ("I'd Rather Go Blind," "Midnight in Memphis") and a general sense of fun that keeps the disc around your CD player quite a bit.

But the question now is will Thomas seize the moment and carry his music to the broadest audience possible? If not, he risks becoming the next Eddie Hinton.

What's that? You've never heard of Eddie Hinton?


Hinton wrote a string of soul/R&B hits in the 1970s and '80s ... for other singers. He released a few CDs under his own name, but never really found his footing.

Thomas is a far better singer than Hinton; a better songwriter, too.

But until he gets the business side of his career together, finds a way to elevate his professional component to the level of his singing and songwriting, not much of anyone outside San Diego is going to know how very good Earl Thomas is.