Monday, September 15, 2008

Blues on the Moon reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues on the Moon
Byther Smith
Delmark Records
11 tracks/65:54

The latest entry in Delmark’s ongoing series that profiles veteran Chicago blues musicians captures Byther Smith in front of an appreciative audience at the Natural Rhythm Social Club on the south-side of Chicago. Like the other releases, there are CD and DVD versions, with the later including an extra track and high-resolution surround sound.

Smith has a commanding presence on the stage with an all-business demeanor that is entirely appropriate for his rough-and-tumble brand of blues. Now 75 years old, Smith retains his expressive and powerful voice as well as his stripped-down guitar style. His band includes Anthony Palmer on guitar, Daryl Coutts on keyboards, Greg McDaniel on bass and James Carter on drums. Coutts tears it up on “Your Mama’s Crazy”, his fingers flying across the keyboard.

The set-list includes four covers and seven songs penned by Smith. Favoring a mid-tempo groove, Byther performs with a sense of urgency that is rare today. Listen to the intensity in his vocal on the title track as Smith describes how he will be paid five million dollars to be the first to play the blues standing on the moon. On the harrowing “Give Up My Life For You”, Smith’s rough-hewn voice cries out for baby Jesus and his salvation. Throughout the disc,

The DVD gives viewers a peek into a neighborhood juke joint. Patrons get up and dance as the spirit moves them. The multi-camera shoot provides close-ups of Smith and the band members in vivid color.

Delmark should be commended for their efforts to document the older generation of blues musicians. Two artists covered in previous issues, Carey Bell and Little Arthur Duncan, have passed away. Byther Smith falls into that category known as a talent deserving of greater recognition. This new release should garner him the attention his talent deserves from the blues community