Hats off! Cassandra Wilson is back. Thunderbird is her best album since New Moon Daughter of ten years ago. She’s hooked up with the brilliant arranger and producer T-Bone Burnett and the resulting songs not only begin and develop well, they also end deftly. (Sometimes they just stop abruptly, other times they mysteriously drift off.) The ill-fitting, easy listening style of Glamored has vanished and in its place are sultry blues and deconstructed bizarre cover renditions (Red River Valley), Latin beat (Go to Mexico) and compelling art-rock pieces (Strike a Match). Wilson’s a decent songwriter, as evidenced in her catchy It Would be So Easy.
A couple of the songs, like the pop-styled Poet and Tarot, seem like rough drafts that needed more time in front of the computer. They’re not bad, just not up to the others. One number I play for friends is Red River Valley, just to watch their jaws drop. It is surely the most offbeat take on this old Gene Autry chestnut I’ve ever heard. What nerve! She soars on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Easy Rider, starting it slowly as a toxeem, then bursting into a blues wail. Burnett’s Lost is a tasty morsel, with languid music accompanying clever lyrics like “in most cases/the ayes have it/but in your case/you have the eyes.” I wish Wilson would perform more blues and country music, because that’s surely where her strength lies. I also wish this album were longer than the 50 minutes.
— Peter Bates