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Iuka, Mississippi  
Daily Corinthian (4-17-2011)

Release Party Review

Singing, writing brothers announce new release

By Bobby J. Smith


Eddie and Frank Thomas -- two of Iuka's native sons -- recently celebrated the release of "Maggie's House," their first album of original music and lyrics, at the Iuka Public Library. "Friends, Iukians, Mississippians. Fellow citizens of planet Earth -- thanks for coming to the "Maggie's House" kick-off party ," said Frank Thomas, welcoming guests to the Monday release.

With Eddie on the acoustic guitar and handling the vocals and Frank setting the groove on an electric bass, the duo played a selection of songs from their new album, including the title song, a homage to all the old train songs called "Drive this Train," and a rollicking number titled "White Lightening" that was inspired by a rabbit-hunting trip that ended up being more of a jug-hunting trip.

The idea for the song "Maggie's House," explained Eddie Thomas, came out of the years of the Great Depression, when the Library of Congress and the Farm Association were paying regional writers to document rural life in America.

As part of the Federal Writer's Project, Iuka native Vivian Skinner, an older cousin of the Thomas Brothers, invited the brothers' mother to join her as she documented a house party in the Freedom Hills.

"During that evening, Vivian wore out her pencil," Eddie said with a laugh. He explained that while the brothers weren't able to locate the text of Skinner's Freedom Hills party description, and the song "Maggie's House" was more inspired by the idea of the event than any specifics.

The album, "Maggie's House," was recorded at the brothers' home in Iuka, across the road from the Iuka Baptist Church. Frank said while they were recording tracks for the album there were many perfect takes that had to be re-recorded because of a car with a loud muffler driving by or the sound of a train passing through Iuka.

"Maggie's House is a real place in an imaginary sort of way ," is the official line on the Thomas Brothers' website. The album is a tip of the hat to growing up as part of the Baby Boomer generation in the North Mississippi hills. The album is packed with references that will resonate with the generation that grew up after World War II.

During their performance in the library, the line, "Grab a pack of Nabs and a New Grape," received the most attention from the audience. The appreciative laughs and spontaneous applause showed how deeply the Thomas Brothers understand the time and place they're singing about --and how people can connect with it.

"Eddie writes songs about what you experienced growing up," Frank said to the crowd consisting primarily of their fellow Baby Boomers.

After their childhood in Iuka, the brothers spent over 30 years working together as Thomasfilms. While some of their early experience was in New York and Los Angeles, the bulk of the brothers' careers has been in Iuka, focusing on film, video, and audio productions that tell Mississippi stories.

From 2004 through 2007, the brothers toured throughout the United States and Europe presenting the multimedia stage-show "Angels on the Backroads," also the title of a 4-disc box-set that follows the origins of American music from Memphis to New Orleans and on the legendary Mississippi Highway 61. On the "Angels on the Backroads" tour, the brothers presented 50 concerts to over 25,000 high school and college students in their native state in addition to the national and European tour.

The brothers closed their set with a song called "Chasing Butterflies" from their upcoming album, a romantic, wistful kind of narrative about a young girl looking for paradise and the changes she faces in the world and herself. The new album --also recorded in the brothers' Iuka home-studio -- is scheduled for release this summer.

"We're planning to release the second album this summer -- if it gets done," said Frank. "And that'll mean another release party."

(To take a trip to "Maggie's House," order a copy from the Thomas Brothers' website at www.eddieandfrank.com.).

-Bobby J. Smith