By Tom Dixon; May 14, 2019
There once was a man from Chicago who, as many blues artist did, had a middle name moniker, in this case Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith. He was a deft and skillful drummer who played with Muddy Waters for eighteen years. Along the way, he had a son who, perhaps unsurprisingly, took to the kit like a duck to water. Under the tutelage of his father, Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, developed an enviable ability to play the drums…add in a wide blues exposure and a writing capability that encompasses more than one genre and you have the ingredients for a blues aware but unrestricted composer. No stranger to the stage or recording, Kenny has contributed to performances from legends like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Keb’ Mo’, Pinetop Perkins, Taj Mahal, and many others. On this latest release, Drop The Hammer, he has recruited an arsenal of musical talent, called them The House Bumpers and together they have assembled a contemporary, wide ranging and invigorating take on the blues.
Opener, Head Pounder, is a brilliant start as the traditional blues of the delta are expanded by the clever inclusion of a sitar and stygian rhythms to make this very new blues too. The vocals are suited to the feel of the track and a bonus awaits as the bass, harp, drums, guitars and sitar all bring their own colour to the complexity. Hey Daddy is a jaunty and saccharine song with Kenny’s own kids joining in…in saying that it has a solid blues backing and the piano, slide and harp are quality…and I don’t have kids, so what do I know?! Title track, Drop The Hammer, changes the mood as we get a funky blues in a slow, sleazy and delicious manner with drum and guitar phrasing adding a Tommy Bolin solo feel to the proceedings…until a fabulous wah’d solo changes the tone: I could listen to it for hours. Scratchin’ Your Head is another old-fashioned blues for today with hints of Slim Harpo in the overall feel. It has some great guitar talking all the way through the verses and an organ solo that lifts and lilts. You can also hear Kenny’s Dad’s influence as the cymbal/snare interplay has similarities to Willie’s work and is pure drumming genius. What In The World has complex percussion over some funky guitar playing while the clavinet adds to the funk too. It is in danger of repetitiveness until the clever pedal work on the guitar solo rescues it. No Need Brotha’ isn’t about the great god Om, but a slow blues that takes the standard “Woke up this morning” format and builds it into a quality guitar led song and a solo that lifts it even more. Puppet On A String is next and has nothing to do with Sandy Shaw…instead it is a mixture of funk, rock and blues that will need a lot of listens to fully ‘get’ the textures. For example, last listen, I concentrated on the bass and it is a revelation that could be missed amongst all of the other instruments. The guitar solo is blues-rock personified as the ‘chord-breaks’ and bends are great, and the harp solo adds to the crowded menu. Keep On Pretending is a shuffle that takes the familiar and, via guitar, piano and harp make it different enough to be new, as they all enjoy a quality solo. Living Fast is a bass and drum (note: not drum and bass!) lesson in laying down a foundation that can be complex and still complementary. The harp solo is inspired and the guitar that follows uses runs and bends that evoke the early pioneers brilliantly. Second Hand Woman is another more than familiar structured slice of blues that you immediately forgive as the band are clearly enjoying themselves and, when the piano solo cuts in, you just have to join in. One Big Frown is an out and out blues rocker with Kimberley Johnson on vocals. It has a great riff and a really clever and well-judged guitar solo that makes it my favourite…at the moment. Final track, Moment Of Silence, surprises in that it is a quiet and reflective instrumental and is, after a few listens, a thoughtful way to close. It has a smoky jazz club feel at first and allows you to lay back and let the guitar playing draw you in and relax into the phrasing. The harp solo wakes you up with its relative harshness before the piano lets you back down; then a guitar solo that talks as it travels all over the fret board. A strangely uplifting tune considering its pace and depth and runs the previous track very close for being favourite.
In summary, this is a very good, modern blues album that pays due reverence to its roots. It is hugely enjoyable and, apart from Hey Daddy, will be a regular on my playlists…but remember, I am not a father, just a miserable old git, so you may like that one too!
I do recommend multiple listens of each track so that you can hear the individual performances that make this such a strong album…fortunately, the production is crystal clear and picking out the bass, for example, is easy and rewarding.
EIGHT doodle paws out of TEN …
Head PounderHey DaddyDrop the HammerScratchin’ Your HeadWhat in the WorldNo Need Brotha’Puppet on a StringKeep On PretendingLiving FastSecond Hand WomanOne Big FrownMoment of Silence
All songs written by Kenny Beedy Eyes Smith
Kenny Smith: Drums, vocals
Billy Flynn: Guitar (1,2,4,8,10,12), sitar (1)
Omar Coleman: Harmonica (1,2,4,8,10,12)
Ari Seder: Guitar (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12)
Felton Crews: Bass (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,12)
Luca Chellini: Piano (2,8,9,10,12), organ (3,4,5,6), clavinet (5,7)
Greg Guy: Guitar (3,5,6)
Andrea Miologos, Dana Gordon: Vocals (3,7,9)
Kimberly Johnson: Vocals (3,7,9,11)
Sugar Blue: Harmonica (7,9)
Guy Klng: Guitar (9, 12)
Nelson Strange: Guitar (11)