One of the frustrations of blues is discovering a terrific talent, yet being frustrated by the artist’s failure to be able to take a step to insure success as more than a fine recording artist. The one time I saw Byther Smith at the Poconos, he was with a pick-up band, which was a shame because it did not do justice to his strong West Side Blues guitar and vocals that are almost on the level of an Otis Rush. He has recorded other strong albums for Delmark, JSP and Black & Tan. This review appeared in the July-August 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 269). Tomorrow, I will run my review of his 2008 CD/DVD on Delmark, Man on the Moon.
With an efficient backing trio laying down steady, funk-tinged grooves, Byther Smith blasts out some stinging blues guitar and pleads his blues with plenty of heart on his third Delmark album Hold That Train. While he does cover some overdone songs like The Thrill is Gone, Willie Dixon’s 300 Pounds of Joy and Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor, most of the material handled here is not nearly as familiar, as he opens with the late A.C. Reed’s This Little Voice, Dixon’s Close To You, Andrew Brown’s You Ought to Be Ashamed, Junior Wells’ Come On In This House, and Detroit Junior’s So Unhappy. Other tracks include Mississippi Kid, set to the melody of Junior Wells’ Messin’ With the Kid.
More so than his prior discs, Smith’s performances here suggest recent recordings by Magic Slim with the simple grooves, punched out stinging guitar lines and solid singing, although Smith’s vocals are a bit higher pitched than those of Magic Slim. So Unhappy is a stirring slow blues where Smith pours his soul in while he evokes Slim Harpo’s Scratch My Back melody for his adaptation of What My Momma Told Me. I Don’t Like to Travel is a strong performance suggestive of Otis Rush’s classic I Can’t Quit You Baby.
The only complaint would be that the tracks start to sound the same if one listens to this in one setting. Use of horns and/or keyboards on some songs would have provided more varied listening.
I likely received a review copy from Delmark.