Blues On The Moon: Live At The Natural Rhythm Club

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Byther Smith
Blues On The Moon: Live At The Natural Rhythm Club

As with previous Delmark DVDs this one's a document of social history in so far as it catches some musical and social activity in Chicago on a given night. The fact that similar activity happens regularly does nothing to diminish the importance of such events. In fact, as long as music as committed and far outside the commercial mainstream is being documented by equally committed listeners, it can be argued that the human spirit is alive and kicking. It's also a testament as much to a vibrant city as to the indisputable talents of Byther Smith.

Former boxer Smith arguably brings few of his pugilistic skills to his take on the blues, unless the current of hard-assed funk that often underscores his music can be taken as evidence of them. The title track is a case in point, with the audience moving accordingly with the physical music. His rhythm guitar playing on this one is clipped but aggressive, leaving viewers and listeners in no doubt about his sincerity, whilst his lead playing comes on like a mellower Albert King leavened by a dose of Smith's personal brand of economy.

Whilst he's keeping the company of this band, it's clear also that he knows he's found the right musical home. The point's made in no uncertain terms on "If I Misused Someone" which, along with quite a few of Smith's own titles here, offers evidence also of how he manages to find something new to say on even the most time-worn of blues themes.

On the following "Monticello" leader and band offer an object lesson in dynamics, Smith's blue-turning- purple guitar at nice odds with his impassioned singing. Over the course of nearly eight minutes the sense of economy is maintained, and Smith lyrically gives us an insight into the place of his birth.

He sticks his neck out in covering Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me To Talkin,'" but any inherent sense of risk is eased by the kind of assured performance that can only come from decades of work. In this case Smith first cut the song back in the early 1960s, so it's not as if his game's been hampered by unfamiliarity with the material.

The Smith commentary that's one of the special features on this disc serves the interest of oral history in much the same way as the main program does that of social history. Taken together they offer an intimate portrait of a bluesman at the top of his game, one keeping the music alive with passion and commitment.

Tracks: Judge Of Honor; If You Love Me; Blues On The Moon; Give Up My Life For You; Hard Times; Your Mama's Crazy; If I Misused Someone; Monticello; So Mean To Me; Rock Me Baby; My Daddy's Mean; Don't Start Me To Talkin.'

Personnel: Byther Smith: vocals, guitar; Anthony Palmer: guitar; Daryl Coutts: keyboards; Greg McDaniel: bass; James Carter: drums.

Production Notes: 71 minutes. Recorded August 17, 2007 at the Natural Rhythm Social Club, Chicago Extras: Byther Smith commentary / interview, Byther Smith discography, trailers for other Delmark DVDs by Tail Dragger, Jimmy Burns, Carey & Lurrie Bell, Little Arthur Duncan, Dave Specter and Mississippi Heat.

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