by Mike Breen
Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies cover Jimmy Cliff classic for latest episode of Thomas' yearlong tribute to her favorite songs and people
This particular version of "Many Rivers to Cross," featuring Greater Cincinnati greats Kelly Thomas and The Mudpies, has been haunting me all week (in a great way). It was recorded as the third episode in a brilliantly conceived yearlong project by Thomas and several of her creative pals, The Sacred Harp Sessions, in which she documents her musical inspirations in monthly installments. "Many Rivers" is such a great song, with its uplifting and optimistic Gospel vibe shining through the lyrical desperation. Thomas and The ’Pies version might just be the best I've heard outside of Jimmy Cliff's original version (sorry, UB40). And I thought it kind of fitting for New Year's Eve (or, perhaps more fittingly, New Year's Day morning) because, although there is a bittersweet aura, Cliff wrote and sang about overcoming his heartbreak and moving on to cross many more rivers in his future. Though he's devastated that his "woman left … and … didn't say why," he knows he'll live through it thanks to his strong will and pride. If you had a tough 2012, make this your theme song on your way to a better 2013.The Sacred Harp Sessions (produced, on the video end, by Alex and Tiffany Luscht of Mind Igniton) is an engaging passion project, with Thomas choosing songs, area musicians and even local studios she admires and appreciates. Ultimately, it's a tribute to the things that have made Thomas who she is today as an artist (and person). In the accompanying videos, Thomas talks about what the songs mean to her, but the short films are not purely autobiographical — they can also be educational. The first episode, for example, discussed Cincinnati's King Records and the city's Hank Williams connection; Kelly recorded Williams' "Lost Highway" with Arlo McKinley at the location of downtown's former Herzog recording studio, believed to be the last standing building in which Williams recorded. Episode 2 of The Sacred Harp Sessions found Thomas teaming up with Cincinnati Blues piano legend Ricky Nye at downtown studio Sound Images for a great take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen." Click here to subscribe to Thomas' YouTube channel so you know when the latest installments drop and can watch and re-watch your favorites. And keep an eye on Thomas' website for any updates and for limited-edition free downloads of the latest tracks recorded for the project ("Many Rivers" is currently available).Thomas is currently singing in three bands — her longtime Kelly Thomas and the Fabulous Pickups crew, the classic Country outfit The Tammy WhyNots and The Lonesome Sound (which formed recently after the aforementioned Hank Williams sessions). She'll be starting off 2013 with free shows with all three acts — The Fabulous Pickups join Sassy Molasses at Northside Tavern Jan. 4, on Jan. 5 The Tammy WhyNots play with Tex Schramm and The Radio King Cowboys and Doctor Bombay and The Atomic Bachelor Pad at Over-the-Rhine's MOTR Pub and The Lonesome Sound has a gig on Jan. 12 at downtown's Taqueria Mercado.