12 songs – 62 minutes
Josh Smith is in the vanguard of the latest generation of blues guitar heroes, albeit that he may be slightly less well known than the likes of Kirk Fletcher, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks and Doyle Bramhall II. It is difficult however to see that situation continuing for too much longer – Smith is more than capable of holding his own in such hallowed company. Indeed, both Fletcher and Bonamassa make guest appearances on Over Your Head, Smith’s eighth solo release.
While his recent CDs have seen Smith exploring his soul/blues/roots influences, Over Your Head is very much in the blues-rock camp, with particular nods towards Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The opening track, “How Long”, is reflective of the overall approach of the album, a riff-based, slow-burning stomp that recalls early Led Zeppelin combined with some fuzzed-out, Hendrix-inspired wah-wah guitar. Bonamassa contributes guitar to the second song, “Over Your Head”, displaying a magnificent creamy tone on his solos. The title track is actually one of a number of highlights on the album, with outstanding solos from both players as they vie back and forth with each other.
The majority of the songs on the album are mid-paced rockers, often based around a relatively simple guitar riff, but executed with an authority and energy that lifts this release above many albums from the plethora of superb technical guitar players out there. Smith, who wrote all the songs on the album, also benefits from having a warm, smoky singing voice that perfectly fits his music. Of course, it does no harm whatsoever to have a top drawer rhythm section in Calvin Turner on bass and Lemar Carter on drums. Together, they provide a seriously solid, rocking foundation on which Smith is able to stretch out. The band is joined at various times by Charles Jones (vocals on the airy ballad, “Better Off”), Jeff Babko (keys on “Better Off” and “Still Searching”), BJ Kemp (backing vocals on “Smoke and Mirrors”) and Chicco Gossoni (guitar on “First Hand Look”). The legendary Charlie Musselwhite also guests on “You’ll Find Love”, adding typically mournful harp.
The always-outstanding Kirk Fletcher features on “…And What”, a loving tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan and this writer’s favorite track on the album. In his own “Say What!” from Soul To Soul, SRV famously played two wah-wahs simultaneously. In “… And What”, Fletcher and Smith trade wah-wah’ed solos, whilst capturing the sense of joyous abandon that separated Vaughan from so many of his imitators. “… And What” is one of three instrumentals on the album, together with the heavily Hendrixian “How Long (Reprise)” and the “Intro to Smoke and Mirrows”, both of which are essentially an excuse for Smith to play some (excellent) guitar.
This is a very impressive album, but it is important to note that the music on Over Your Head is much closer to rock than it is to blues. Some more traditional blues fans may find it a little over-blown. If your tastes include the likes of Jimi Hendrix, early Led Zep or Free or the rockier side of Joe Bonamassa, however, you will find much to enjoy in this album. It features top notch playing and singing, solid songwriting and first rate production, with typically impressive packaging from the Germany-based Crosscut Records. Highly enjoyable.