The follow-up to Lavay Smith's 1996 album "One Hot Mama" surely has been long anticipated by Bay area fans of the retro-lounge scene. But "Miss Thing" is much more than just another neo-swing blast of recycled past.
Smith and the Skillet Lickers really turn up the soul on this album, and the litany of brass players make "Miss Thing" a considerable contemporary jazz album regardless of the kitschy reputation that hangs over many of today's big band revivalists.
Alan Smith and Bill Ortiz do an excellent job of muted and full-blast hard-bop trumpet playing, particularly on "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" and "Roll the Boogie."
Smith has toured with Johnny Otis and recorded with no less a legend than Duke Ellington, while Ortiz has played with artists ranging from Tito Puente and Don Cherry to Carlos Santana.
The strings aren't half bad either. Skillet Licker mainstay Charlie Siebert is quite a jazz guitarist, putting plenty of pep into each solo, and bassist Bing Nathan gels well with the drummers he works with, particularly Sly Randolph who's jammed with Earth Kitt and Wilson Pickett.
Lavay herself shines especially brightly on ballads such as "The Busy Woman Blues" and "I Want a Little Boy." She cites Dinah Washington as a favorite influence, though you can detect a broad understanding of jazz singing in her performance.
So if the swinging, soulful sound of Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald's boppy blues is what gets you grooving, I recommend "Miss Thing." It's a significant improvement over the band's last album, and a legitimate contender for one of the best traditional jazz records of 2000.
The Skillet Lickers play frequently around the Bay Area. Check them out in San Francisco either Fridays at Café Du Nord or Tuesdays at the Top of the Mark. For a complete listing of upcoming shows, just point your browser at LavaySmith.com and go cat go!