By Mike O'Cull; April 26, 2019
Grammy Award-winning blues drummer/vocalist Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is one of the most vital and important musicians in the modern blues scene. He’s the son of late Muddy Waters drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and has spent his life working with legends like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Keb’ Mo’, Pinetop Perkins, Taj Mahal, and countless others.
Now, Smith checks back in with the blues faithful with a new solo album, Drop The Hammer, that was tracked with his new band The House Bumpers and released March 15th, 2019 on Big Eye Records. The record is a trans-generational effort rooted in tradition but unafraid to incorporate sounds and lyrics that reflect the 21st Century world we all share and features a supporting cast of all-stars including Sugar Blue, Greg Guy (son of Buddy Guy), Felton Crews, Billy Flynn, and Guy King.
“I didn’t live and experience picking cotton in the fields,” Smith says, “I grew up in Chicago and my inspiration for this album was drawn from the rhythm of footsteps on jagged pavement and the soulful and shadowy sounds of the city at night.” This sensibility does much to make the 12 original songs on Drop The Hammer relatable to today’s listeners, who might not grasp the meanings of older songs about broom dusting and nation sacks. Smith’s mind is in exactly the right place to span this gap and he’s created a record that respects the blues tradition that built him while simultaneously pushing the music into the future.
Drop The Hammer kicks off with “Head Pounder,” an attention-grabbing cut that uses sitar licks and an almost-electronic beat to transform its one-chord Mississippi-style Burnside blues into a sound we’ve not heard before. It’s one of the most unique songs from a blues artist in recent memory and Smith shows much boldness and vision by making it this set’s opener. Kenny’s smooth vocals float over an increasingly intense groove and the combination instantly displays his personal creative grit.
The next track, “Hey Daddy,” is a lighthearted shuffle that will appeal to parents everywhere. It’s a sweet and sincere song that features vocal contributions from Kenny’s own kids Mae, Clara, and Teddy Smith. It’s a cool contrast after the tight vibe of “Head Pounder” and feels like a little slice of Smith’s life given to the world. The title song, “Drop The Hammer,” gets down into a funky darkness that feels like Chicago at night, danger and all. Greg Guy and Ari Seder provide all the guitar bite needed and Smith performed his parts on a set of Roland V-Drums to add some modern sounds to this deep funk selection.
“No Need Brotha” is an exquisite slow blues that again brings in Guy and Seder on guitars plus Luca Chellini on B3 organ to support Smith’s socially woke songwriting. “Puppet On A String” is a hard funk vamp that features some fine harp work from the always-amazing Sugar Blue and classic female R&B backup vocals that are pure soul and vibe. The record winds down with “Moment of Silence,” an instrumental slow blues with an after-hours feel and sublime contributions from guitarist Guy King and harp man Omar Coleman. It has a perfect end-of-the-gig ambiance that brings listeners back down to Earth after the drive and fire of the rest of this set.
Drop The Hammer is the edgy and progressive record Smith has wanted to release for a long time and brings blues fans his true artistic style on his own terms. The album hits every target it aims at and should end up on a lot of “Best Album” lists at the end of the year. Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith is moving the blues into a new place that will touch the souls of present-day fans of roots music. These tracks are one big breath of fresh air that’ll blow new life into the heart of American music. Add this one to your record collection and enjoy it forever.