Monday, November 01, 2004

Return of the man with the blue guitar

After more than a year's absense, singer-songwriter Chris Smither returned to the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth last month, picking his often melancholy and philosphical reflections on his signature blue Ibanez acoustic. Singing in his impassioned, care-worn croak, Smither played a good portion of the tunes from his excellent 2003 album Train Home, including the metaphysical and moody title track, his wonderful covers of Dylan's "Desolation Row" and Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man" and his own whimsical "Never Needed It More" and "Confirmation," the latter filled with sure-to-get-laugh-and-a-whoop lyrics such as "Cuz I don't pick no cotton, I never pick my nose/I couldn't pick a pocket in a pile of dirty clothes." He also won over the packed house with his story of his car going "missing" in a parking lot in England by way of a preface to "Let It Go," a tale of a man having difficulty coping with the theft of his car.

Smither also performed a few tunes from earlier recordings, such as the evocative and deeply forlorn "No Love Today," which he introduced by shouting out the cry of the street vendor he recalled from his childhood in New Orleans. Returning to the stage for an encore, Smither wrapped up the evening with a cover of J.J. Cale's sigh-inducing "Magnolia," which he called one of the most beautiful love songs ever written. It's cheering to see Smither draw capacity crowds down here, and it gives me hope for the future of South Florida's music scene.

CHICAGO BLUES ON HARRISON. Despite a nearly constant drizzle, the first Chicago Blues on Harrison street party drew the blues faithful to downtown Hollywood two weekends ago. Attired in a typically glittery outfit, his Indian headdress perched on a mike stand behind him, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater proved once again his old-school credentials. He and his band (including former South Floridian Heather Tackett on bass) kept festgoers dancing in the rain to his signature mix of Chuck Berry duckwalkers and West Side Chicago blues. Some of the tunes hailed from Rock 'n' Roll City, Clearwater's Grammy-nominated, seriously jukin' 2003 recording with Los Straitjackets. Highlights included the countrified "Back Down to Earth" and the slowburning "Slow and Easy," which all but defines the West Side style The Chief helped pioneer. Clearwater also invited up on stage the event's organizer, saxophonist Kenny Millions, who owns Sushi Blues Cafe and Blue Monk Lounge and who provided some greasy, honky-tonk riffage.

The hugely talented and charismatic Alvin Youngblood Hart fronted his Muscle Theory trio for a crunchy, electric set that might have dismayed those expecting something bluesier. I recognized a few tunes from Hart's Start With the Soul recording, including the bitter "Manos Arriba," which he explained was written after he was hassled by the cops while walking his baby in his stroller, and the hilarious and dead-on country rocker "Cowboy Boots." He also romped through "Joe Friday," his ode to TV detectives, and performed an excellent cover of the Stones' "Sway." Much of the other material, I imagine, will show up on Hart's next recording, which, judging by this show, should nudge him even further out of the blues comfort zone.

Big backpats to Millions and his wife, Junko, for undertaking the event, and the city of Hollywood for underwriting it. With any luck, they'll do it again next year, perhaps under more cooperative skies.

COMING SOON: Previews of Hollywood Jazz Fest, with McCoy Tyner, Stanley Clarke and Bobby Hutcherson, and Riverwalk Blues Fest, with Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Hot Tuna.

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