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CD REVIEW -- Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith
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KENNY “BEEDY EYES” SMITH

Drop The Hammer

Big Eye Records

Kenny Smith Drop The Hammer CD

by Chris Edwards

Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith’s new CD, Drop The Hammer caught me off guard. You see, Kenny Smith is on to something new in the world of the Blues and it took me a minute to get over being stunned and then pleasantly surprised.

After all, this is the son of acclaimed Grammy-winning blues drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who famously backed Muddy Waters for decades. Kenny grew up in a house once owned by Muddy Waters that had a constant stream of blues icons dropping by to jam with his talented father, who also led the Legendary Blues Band after Muddy’s passing. Starting at a young age, Kenny followed in his pop’s footsteps and is one of the most in-demand blues drummers in Chicago and beyond. He can be heard on countless CDs and he has won numerous awards, including a Grammy. In 2008, Kenny performed at the Kennedy Center Honors show with Koko Taylor and B.B. King in a tribute to Morgan Freeman.

          As the drummer for the red hot Cash Box Kings featuring Oscar Wilson and Joe Nosek, who just released the chart-topping Hail to The Kings! on Alligator Records, Kenny has been touring the world and playing major festivals nonstop. And then there’s local Chicago shows with Kenny’s Friends Band and also his new band the Housebumpers, who back him up on Drop The Hammer.

The CD marks Smith’s debut as a leader.  He’s making a statement and carving out his own ground at the same time. From the opening track “Head Pounder” one hears an odd sounding harmonica by Omar Coleman and Billy Flynn wailing on a sitar guitar. Nowhere to be found is the usual blues shuffle or 1,4,5 progressions. There are low toms banging, shakers and a tambourine.  The groove is more closely associated with World music than a classic Blues tune.  And then comes that low, distinctive Kenny Smith voice and that’s it. It’s not your father’s Blues anymore. Nor is it Kenny’s father’s blues.


          And that’s just the beginning. Kenny’s kids (ages 2, 5 and 7) are on background vocals and sounding adorable on, “Hey Daddy.” They also joined their father on stage at Chicago Blues Fest this year to bring some fun and cuteness to the Front Porch Stage.

Bassist Felton Crews and guitarists Greg Guy and Ari Seder are channeling a serious Funkadelic vibe on title track “Drop The Hammer,” while female backup harmonies add a foreboding vibe.  Kenny unleashes the thunder drums on “Puppet On a String” which features the great Sugar Blue on harmonica. “One Big Frown” is a straight up head shaking rocker, with powerhouse lead vocals by Kimberly “Hot Sauce” Johnson.

Now don’t fret Blues fans, Smith and The House Bumpers have some more traditional songs for you, too.  Most of you will find, “Scratchin’ Your Head,”  “No Need Brotha,” “Keep On Pretending” and “Second Hand Woman” to be right up your alley.  Rest assured that the shuffles, stinging guitar solos and bouncing bass lines are all here. There’s also fine storytelling to match, including tales of fatherly love, the perils of hard drinking, trading women, anger, depression and the daily struggles of life.

Drop The Hammer closes with “Moment of Silence,” a five-minute instrumental which is anything but silent. The song starts as a slow, sad blues featuring moody guitar solos, in turn, by Billy Flynn, Ari Seder and Guy King. Omar Coleman answers with a mournful harp and Luca Chiellini adds his sparkling piano. The song builds to a tension and release and then fades into the night, like a mysterious film noir.

Kenny wrote and produced all 12 tracks and they are all expertly played by a cast of some of Chicago’s finest musicians.  The Housebumpers are: Guitarists Billy Flynn, Guy King, Ari Seder, Greg Guy and Nelson Strange; bassist Felton Crews; keyboardist Luca Chiellini; harmonica blowers Sugar Blue and Omar Coleman; singers Andrea Miologos, Dana Gordon and Kimberly Johnson. Of course Kenny’s versatile, creative drumming is the fine-tuned engine that drives the music and keeps it all in sync.

There’s a really fresh sound to the entire CD and that’s due in no small part to Kenny’s production skills. The project took two years to complete. Kenny himself said to me that, “I had to feel it.  This is the first CD out of my head.”  No doubt there will be plenty more from this multi-talented artist.

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