Review by J Hunter
THE CHARLIE SMITH BLUES BAND
Steppin’ Down Blues Lane
As you may know, Greater Nippertown guitarslinger Charlie Smith was inducted into the New York State Blues Hall of Fame a couple of months ago. What you don’t know is that Smith could have used his new release Steppin’ Down Blues Lane for his résumé tape. Don’t worry, though: This isn’t a “Greatest Hits” package. The lion’s share of Steppin’ comes from live recordings made at various venues over a 10-year period. Cruising through these righteous slices of club life (which is the only way to experience the blues, to my mind), you see the kind of full-throated, unvarnished havoc Smith has been wreaking on the Empire State during this century.
The opening title track is one of four tunes recorded at the late, lamented Savannah’s in downtown Albany. It’s a mid-tempo cruiser that’s got Smith howling off-mic right from the jump, with Robert Aronstein’s organ comping sweet & hot underneath Smith’s gritty vocal. “I got the blues,” Smith tells the crowd, “But I was so young, I was just a kid!” When Smith lets loose his first solo, it goes straight for your throat, and after a semi-joking scat solo, he lets his axe attack the crowd again. You want pretty guitar? Go find an old Pat Metheny Group album. This is down-and-dirty blues, subtle as a flying mallet, and it makes your teeth curl back into a big wide smile. Aronstein’s pumping follow-up solo goes right down that same mean street, and “mean” never felt this fun!