Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Byther Smith "Blues On the Moon" (Delmark)

This welcome new set by Byther Smith, venerable Chicago south-side guitarist, hits the streets today. It was recorded live last August 2007 at the Natural Rhythm Social Club. It seems like an easy idea. Take Byther Smith and his crackling good, sympathetic band, place them in front of a small audience at a working class club, plug them in and let them entertain by playing electric blues. But give Delmark Records credit--it may be an obvious idea, but it works great. Byther Smith may have been 74 years old when he recorded this, but this is no oldies show. Smith's guitar playing is sure and light and supple, his voice is rich with passion, and he still has it. Byther Smith is captured here making vital music, real music, and the joy of being alive just radiates off him. There is a moment towards the end of the DVD when Smith leans back a bit and looks out over the crowd and smiles. It is a timeless moment. It reminds me of a retired minister in the little town where I grew up. He was in his early 90s the last time I saw him, a tall thin black man in a black suit that was probably older than I was. He may even have been napping during the early part of the worship service, but when he approached that pulpit to bring the message you could just see the years fall off him, and the man who preached was exactly where God intended him to be, was exactly who God wanted him to be, and in that pulpit he was in the right place for him. In this DVD Byther Smith is exactly where he is supposed to be, doing exactly what he is supposed to do, and it is good. GOOD! Yes, sure I wish I had the companion to this set--the same sort of live DVD when Byther was a young man full of transcendent fire, but better to celebrate what you do have than to moan about what you don't. This DVD captures one night with style and class, and it should be on the shelf of everyone who loves the Chicago blues.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Review: Kenny Neal "Let Life Flow"

"Let Life Flow" marks Kenny Neal's first cd on Blind Pig Records. It is really good to welcome him back. I've been a fan of Kenny Neal since 1989's "Devil Child." His swampy harp and guitar playing have always sounded good to me. This disc is his first release since he came back from hiatus. In September 2006 Kenny announced he was taking a year off from recording and touring because of an undisclosed illness. He returned to the public eye at the Monterey Blues Festival in June 2007 and the illness was disclosed as Hepatitis C. But let me tell you, he must have gotten himself healed of it--this is the best cd he has ever made. It is recorded with his regular band--Kenny on vocals, guitar, harp, and lap steel, Lucky Peterson on organ & piano, Frederick Neal on keyboards, Ken Johnson on drums, Darnell Neal on bass, and a crack horn section led by Joe Campbell on trumpet. The vocals are sweet, the guitar is exactly right on the money, the rthymn section keeps everything moving along, the piano and organ sound like they're being channelled from the bordello or from the church--whatever each song requires is right there sounding exactly right. I especially recommend the track "Since I Met You Baby." This Ivory Joe Hunter tune is given the definitive treatment--Kenny Neal does it better than anybody ever has. He sounds more confident, stronger, more soulful than ever. This is one of those cds that should be BLASTING out of every radio station in the USA. It deserves to be a big hit--you should buy five or six copies and give them to your friends.