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November 1997

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Big Bad Smitty
Cold Blood
HMG/Hightone Records

Big Bad Smitty album coverVery few singers in the long history of the blues have approached the vocal power and emotion of the late Howlin' Wolf. I really don't think there's been anyone since he passed away in the mid-1970s. But now I've found a blues cat who comes real close!

Big Bad Smitty was born and raised in Mississippi, but has lived in St. Louis for the last 20 or so years. The recordings on Cold Blood were made in 1993, prior to Smitty suffering a stroke from which he is only now recovering. Joining him in the studio was longtime Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who complements Smitty's feral vocals and slashing guitar licks just as he did on so many nights with Wolf. And if that's not enough hot guitar, Bennie Smith plays great lead on the cuts not featuring Sumlin. Rounding out this ensemble is harmonica player Arthur "Mississippi" Williams, formerly of The Jellyroll Kings.

Cold Blood is raw, energetic blues at its best. Smitty starts out with one of his own compositions, "Don't Mess With My Wife," letting us know right away that we need to take him seriously "... If I catch you messin' with my wife, I swear I gotta take your life..." Bennie Smith shows a deft but still raw touch on guitar here.

The best cuts though are the Howlin' Wolf/Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters cuts, such as "Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy," "I Asked For Water," "Forty Four Blues," "Killing Floor," and "Mannish Boy." These are the ones on which Sumlin appears, and you'll swear you've heard these versions before on some Chess compilation. But no, that's really Big Bad Smitty growlin' and howlin' into the microphone.

Not to be overlooked is Smitty's exceptional version of Harmonica George Smith's "Last Night." Notable here is the tasteful harmonica playing of Arthur Williams.

Another nice cut is the slow blues "Ship Made Of Paper (Just To Be With You)," which gives Williams another chance to shine on harmonica while Big Bad Smitty provides some of his fiercest shouting vocals.

If you're into industrial-strength, back-alley blues, then immediately add Cold Blood to your shopping list.

- Bill Mitchell

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