Blues is a relatively simple form of music. Which makes it, perhaps paradoxically, easy to play but difficult to play well.
Willie “Big Eyes” Smith played the blues very well indeed while anchoring Muddy Waters’ band from behind the drum kit during the latter’s remarkable late-career renaissance. In recent years, though, Smith has rekindled his passion for his first instrument – the humble harmonica. These days he’s usually up front, leaving drum duties to his son, Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith. (One assumes a family resemblance …!).
In the process he’s emerged as a fine singer in the laconic tradition (think Slim Harpo without the swamp), and his harmonica work, uncluttered and expressive, is an object lesson in ‘old school.’ Here Smith leads an all-star aggregation through a primarily original set that mines familiar territory (and in truth relies entirely on conventional structure) for a sound that nonetheless sounds fresh and exciting – the result of Smith’s unbridled enthusiasm and genuine love for that seminal drive that renders the blues such a timeless form.
On hand to help out are bassist Bob Stroger, a Chicago stalwart and another Muddy alumnus, with Billy Flynn and Little Frank Krakowski handling guitars and Barrelhouse Chuck on keys. (Liner notes list only piano but one assumes Chuck’s responsible for the wheezy organ on a couple as well). All are seasoned veterans with an inherent understanding of the understatement essential to classic blues. No flash, no blistering barrages, just a solid groove and uncluttered instrumentation that relies on that most intangible of assets, pure feel.
This is as real as it gets, music drenched in honest sweat and illicit sex, smelling like smoke and spilled beer, and absolutely, undeniably, irresistibly powerful.