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CD Review
Big Walter Smith & The Groove Merchants
"Midnight Express"
BWS 403, 13 tracks, 60 minutes
by Kurt Koehler
"Midnight Express" is the third CD from Big Walter Smith and the Groove Merchants in recent years and it's not only going please their army of fans - it's bound to recruit quite a few more. This is a strong set and it's exactly what Big Walter fans have come to expect when they attend a live performance; solid blues, R&B dance tunes, slow ballads, and little funky stuff too. The selections on the CD are comprised of covers and original material written by band members Arthur Branscomb, Scotty Graves, Big Walter, and long time friend and collaborator Deb Mahon ("Rainy Chicago Blues," "Permanent Position"). Making a return appearance from the group's first CD is it's title tune, "Big Storm Comin'." Also on the disc are a few covers from Johnny Taylor's "383 Emergency," Otis Clay's "Leave Me And My Woman Alone," and Little Johnny Taylor's "If You Love Me Like You Say," to Albert King's "Cold Women" and Fleetwood Mac's, "Black Magic Woman" done in the a classic Santana style arrangement. The horn arrangements (Arthur Branscomb - trumpet, Matt Franko - trombone, Ruston Reynolds - sax) and keyboard interplay (Paul Widgen) that characterizes the sound of the Groove Merchants is all here, and as always, its' the perfect backdrop for Big Walter's smooth vocals. Scotty Graves guitar work over-lays and accents with fills in all the right places and when it's time for him to step out, he's out front with his trademark fiery leads and signature sustain (check out his smokin' solos on "Hooked On You," "I Don't Want No Woman" and "Black Magic Woman"). Nailing down the rhythm section are Josh Taulbee on bass and Tom McShane on drums. There's a live sounding quality to this recording that should appeal to most listeners, and the music on this CD keeps moving - again much like their stage show. There's little dead air between songs and the energy is high even on the slower tunes. All in all "Midnight Express" is a triumph for Big Walter Smith, who was featured in the November/December 1997 issue of Living Blues magazine and was named the "Ambassador to the Blues" during the 1997 Bayfront Blues Festival. It is a must addition to the CD collections of Big Walter fans and blues lovers everywhere.

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This review is copyright 1998 by Kurt Koehler, all rights reserved.

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Copyright 1998 by Ray M. Stiles
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