This Blue Before
Smiling Jack Smith
Thunder & Lightning Music
Every once in awhile, a dedicated music fan will discover an unexpected gem. These recordings have escaped widespread attention despite being innovative or just plain great !! The latest by Jack Smith is just such a surprise. It is a blast of fresh sounds and outstanding musicianship from a cast of unknowns. At least they are until you're done reading this review.
Smith is a former native of New Jersey who now resides in Madrid, Spain after a lenghty residence in Vancouver. He wrote all of the tunes, plays guitar and handles all of the vocals. Jack worked out the arrangements with his Spanish band, then traveled to British Columbia to record with production help from his friend, Pat Coleman. The project certainly proves that blues music has indeed become an international art form.
Several elements contribute to the success of This Blue Before. Smith wirites in a variety of styles and displays a knack for adding humor through a witty turn of a phrase. He sings with deep-toned, powerful voice with a bit of a rough edge to it. The tunes are fleshed out by a phenomenal three-piece horn section consisting of Phil Dwyer on tenor sax, Monik Nordine on baritone and Mike Herriot on trumpet & trombone. The trio play Coleman's brilliant horn charts with gusto and elevate each track with their fine work. Another key player is Miles Black. Whether on piano, clavinet or the B-3 organ, Black fills in the arrangements with inventive and tasteful displays of his keyboard mastery. All of the instrumental solos throughout the disc are compact and to the point - no grandstanding to detract from the proceedings.
Smiling Jack lays down a funky opening track as he tells the sad tale of having the "Deja Blues" all over again. Black establishes the tone on the clavinet with the horn section accenting Jack's vocal and his biting guitar solo. Smith has several tracks that examine different aspects of the blues. "The Blues Comes Back Again" explores the brief escape that comes from playing on stage. Black contributes several rocking piano solos on "The Blues Comes Back Again", which cautions not to get to comfortable with the good times. On "I Could Live with the Blues", Smith offers to make peace, if only "..the blues could live with me." In what has to be a first, Smiling Jack manges to build a song with a boogie beat around the Latin legal phrase "Mea Culpa". The title track closes the disc. It is a lenghty, dark meditation on the trials of life and love that serves as a contrast to the abundant good -time feel to the rest of the disc. Smith unleases a burning guitar solo before Black calms things down with his swirling organ phrases.
You owe to yourself to get a copy of this marvelous recording. It easily surpasses many of the blues releases on larger labels that I have heard in the last six months. Check out Smith's website to get a copy - and to help keep a smile on Jack's face !!!