This West Coast-based guitarist shines brilliantly on his third album for Bullseye Blues. While some of his earlier locally produced efforts have been uneven affairs, here kudos must go forth to producer and keyboard sideman Ron Levy. Levy keeps Wilson's guitar tone at sting and bite level 10 and his vocals right up front and toasty, surrounding him with a solid rhythm section and spare horn stabs. Eight of the 12 songs here are from Smokey's prolific pen, including "You Don't Drink What I Drink," and the title track, "Too Drunk To Drive," "Don't Tangle With Me," and "Black Widow," winners all. A quartet of covers (Magic Sam's "Easy Baby," Elmore James' "Something Inside Of Me" and a pair of Howlin' Wolf tunes, "Louise" and "44 Blues," with the latter featuring a guest turn from James Harman) rounds out this excellent session. Those who can't get enough of nasty, stinging lead guitar lines would do well to investigate this album.
Transplanted Mississippian Smokey Wilson has made plenty of records, but usually for poorly distributed regional labels. So although he is far from a newcomer, he might as well be a fledgling rookie to the average listener. The songs, aside from the lyrically commendable but awkward "Don't Burn Down L.A.," are primarily his own urgent expositions on love, life's unfairness, and pain. His playing blends slamming fills, chunky riffs, and sonic barrages mixed with expert uses of distortion, bent notes, and flashy chords. This is the kind of no-nonsense set that has earned Rounder/Bullseye its exemplary reputation.
Though its title track ignited a nationwide fad for go-go music, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' Going to a Go-Go LP certainly wasn't just a cash-in effort. It's one of the best records the group put out, and the first six songs make for the best side of any original Motown LP of the '60s (granted, all but one are also available on dozens of Miracles compilations). The four biggest hits were among the best in a set of Miracles archetypes: the throwback to the aching '50s doo wop ballad ("Ooo Baby, Baby"), the flashy up-tempo dance song ("Going to a Go-Go"), the dancing-with-tears-in-my-eyes jerker ("The Tracks of My Tears"), and the mid-tempo orchestral epic ("My Girl Has Gone"). "Choosey Beggar" is one of the sweetest of all Robinson's lead vocals, with stunning background work by the rest of the Miracles.
Otis "Smokey" Smothers's 1962 LP Sings the Backporch Blues is a rare and coveted blues album. This CD puts it into wide circulation and then some, not only presenting all 12 of the songs from the original album (as the first dozen tunes on the disc), but adding nine alternate takes and four tracks from 1962-1963 singles. The album is perhaps overestimated due to its rarity, but it's solid Chicago blues, owing much to the sort of mid-tempo shuffle that Jimmy Reed had made so much in vogue by the early '60s.
The time that has flown is Smokey's 50 years in the business, but it could just as well refer to the number of years since Robinson has released a smooth soul album: almost 20 full years! Smokey, of course, has stayed active during the interim, both on-stage and on record, but Time Flies When You're Having Fun marks a return to the coolly simmering quiet storm that was his stock in trade during the '70s and '80s. Apart from production techniques, not much has changed in Smokey's music during the time off, either: this is still smooth, unhurried soul that vacillates between elegance and supper-club classiness. Of course, since these are two sides of the same coin, they fit together seamlessly, with the only question being whether the immaculately polished music veers toward the corny, but whenever it does, Smokey's impeccably tailored vocals steer it back to toward the sweetly romantic. After all these years, Smokey still makes it all seem easy – so easy that it's puzzling why he hasn't made a record like this in so long, because as this comforting, velvety album proves, nobody does it better than he.