Live Review
Josh Smith and the Frost
@ Cheers, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Jan. 15, 1999
By Dave "Doc" Piltz

Josh Smith is a 19 year old guitarist and a member of the current youth movement in blues circles that includes the likes of Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and Susan Tedeschi. Josh Smith and the Frost appeared at Bunker's in the Twin Cities twice in 1997 and received great reviews on both occasions. Interestingly enough, the band's appearance at Cheers in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida was advertised as the homegrown Smith's first appearance in Broward County in two years. Given the fact that I have heard two of his three currently available recordings and that he has received great press here in the Twin Cities, I was ready for an evening of very special music. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

First some truths. Josh Smith IS an excellent guitarist, demonstrating a variety of styles and exceptional skills that definitely places him at or near the top of the list of the new young guitarists currently taking the blues by the storm. Additionally, Smith exhibits a commanding stage presence and definitely knows what he must do to get an audience into the music. Josh also looks good. His recent haircut and shedding of his Stevie Ray Vaughan-like hat are allowing him to develop his own look and personality. Finally, the other members of the Frost; long time bassist, Mike Nadaoka and current drummer, Don Cohen, are excellent musicians, providing strong rhythms behind Josh's guitar.

Despite all of the previously mentioned positives, I still found myself disappointed from my first live "visit" with Josh Smith and the Frost. Worst of all, I found the venue (Cheers in Ft. Lauderdale) less than amenable to Josh's sound. Throughout most of the evening, Smith's guitar overpowered the rhythms provided by Nadaoka and Cohen. When the band brought up the volume to match Smith, it was too much for the room. When they toned it down, the overall sound became weak and less sharp. Josh's vocals are good, but not great, on his recordings. However, due to the poor sound quality, the vocals were weak and almost totally unintelligible at Cheers. My overall assessment was that a power trio such as Josh Smith and the Frost require a venue that will allow for the necessary volume and clean sound that makes the band's sound work. Cheers was not that venue.

Going back to my earlier statements; I found Josh Smith to be an excellent and exciting guitarist. He is able to do things that many guitarists only wish they could do, and he does them well. His mixture of blues, jazz, rock and funk give him a unique style that sets him apart from some of the other "copy cat" guitarists on the blues scene today. His "walk around" at Cheers included some very fine guitar work, a visit outside where he played sitting on the curb and later on in the walk, some nice slide licks using a patron's beer glass. He offered tunes from all of his CD's; Born Under A Blue Sign, Woodsheddin' and Too Damn Cold, as well as several new songs from his soon to be released, untitled recording. Smith is a very mature guitarist and during the evening he demonstrated all of the skills that caused Jimmy Thackery to claim that, "Josh is three heartbreaks away from being a true blues guitar genius."

Despite the fact that I was impressed by Josh Smith's guitar and, at times, by his band, I think that it is time for Smith to take the next step in the development of his sound. Several times during the performance, I thought that the songs would have benefitted from a keyboard player and maybe even a saxophone. Hopefully, Josh will recognize this and take steps to fill out his sound. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan realized that power trios have certain limitations in their sound that can only be overcome by additional instrumentation. In my opinion, Josh Smith can only remain on the fringe of greatness until he decides to go to the next level.

This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.

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