Dot Com Blues
The organ king's first album in five years, an all-blues session with high-profile guests, is a killer. Celebrity padding is a staple in the recording industry these days, but these birds-of-a-feather belong here, and they sound committed. Guests include blues heavyweights Dr. John, Taj Mahal, Etta James, Keb' Mo' and B.B. King.
The Texacali Horns kick things off on Dr. John's heavy backbeat blues "Only in It for the Money," with the composer swapping gravelly vocal choruses with Smith's rifling keyboard. The leader's "8 Counts for Rita," up next and performed with the rhythm section only, has an attractive chord progression in bars nine and 10 of the head. (It's not the usual V7 to IV7 blues change.) Guitarist Russell Malone, bass guitarist Reggie McBride, drummer Harvey Mason and percussionist Lennie Castro are Smith's main accompanists for the album, although other rhythm-section players appear: guitarist Phil Upchurch, electric pianist Jon Cleary, acoustic bassist John Clayton, et. al. Malone, exhilarating throughout the date, is especially impressive on "C.C. Rider" (where he recalls Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery), the title track and "Mood Indigo."
James pours herself into Willie Dixon's "I Just Wanna Make Love to You," and Mahal and Mo' bring a rural, Southern touch to "Strut" and "Over & Over," respectively. King, still one of the most compelling blues singers and guitarists in the business, offers a typically stirring outing on his "Three O'Clock Blues." On "Mr. Johnson," Dr. John returns for a splashy round of New Orleans piano.
Smith is on fire throughout the album, whether it's a slow burn ("C.C. Rider") or a sizzler ("8 Counts"). His solos include lots of familiar, in-the-groove licks, but there are also newer harmonic ingredients. The album contains plenty of rhythmic variety within the context of the blues. Smith has always been a soulful, dynamic performer. After 44 years of recording, he still has the goods.