Smoky Greenwell – Blues And The Power Of Peace
12 songs – 61 minutes
New Orleans big gun, Smoky Greenwell, has been releasing albums under his own name since 1993, but Blues And The Power Of Peace is his first since 2016’s South Louisiana Blues. Recorded in both New Orleans and Nashville, the album comprises seven self-composed or co-written songs and four nicely chosen covers.
Greenwell of course provides vocals and harmonica throughout but also adds his top drawer saxophone to Junior Walker’s “Hot Cha” (curiously credited to Slim Harpo on the CD sleeve) and Claude & The Hightones’ 1962 gem, “High Sailing”. For both tracks, as well as Slim Harpo’s “I Need Money (Keep Your Alibis)” and Lazy Lester’s “I’m A Lover (Not A Fighter)”, Greenwell is backed by New Orleans musicians Jack Kolb on guitar, David Hyde on bass and Bob Burke on drums, with all of whom he has played for more than a decade. For the remaining tracks, his band comprises Nashville stalwarts Johnny Neel on keyboards and vocals, Dennis Gulley on bass, Chris Anderson and John Conley on guitars, Daryl Burgess on drums and Melissa Alesi on vocals.
The album contains two versions of “Common Ground”, which bookend the release, opening with a five minute radio edit and ending with an eight and a half minute extended version. It is a testament to the quality of the musicians that a one-chord stomp can hold the listener’s attention throughout the song. Lyrically, Greenwell’s plea for humans to find common ground and to reject hate connects to his political messages in other tracks. The upbeat rock and roll of “Get Out And Vote” encourages listeners to partake in their civic duties, while “Slow Moving Coup” warns of the seemingly inexorable loss of individual rights through attacks on the press and voter suppression. In contrast, “The Power Of Peace” offers an uplifting message of hope over some lovely piano by Neel and glorious weeping slide guitar from Conley. This song is the only non-blues song on the album (hence the album’s title).
While Greenwell’s swooping harmonica is the primary solo instrument on Blues And The Power Of Peace, all the musicians add subtle yet telling touches. “Low Blues For The Blues” features great swampy guitar from Conley and organ from Neel. The massed gospel-style backing vocals on “The Way Out Is In” perfectly complement Anderson’s gorgeous slide guitar. Anderson also produces a great solo on the self-explanatory instrumental “Flat Tire Blues”. Burke and Hyde perfectly capture the gently irresistible drive of “I’m A Lover (Not A Fighter)”.
The New Orleans tracks were recorded at Audiophile Studios in the French Quarter, while the Nashville tracks were recorded at Johnny Neel’s Straight Up Sound studio.
Blues And The Power Of Peace is a very enjoyable album of modern harmonica-led blues, played with real authority and warmth. There is a lot to enjoy on this release.