Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith & The House Bumpers – Drop The Hammer | Album Review

Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith & The House Bumpers – Drop The Hammer

Big Eye Records BE005

12 songs – 52 minutes

Percussionist/vocalist Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith plants one foot firmly in the past and the other squarely in the future with this CD as it carries the blues tradition forward from its roots in the cotton field as it lays groundwork for the music for future generations.

Kenny grew up surrounded by the greatest musicians Chicago has ever known. An eight-time Living Blues magazine drummer of the year, he learned how to play at the feet of his universally beloved father, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, who was Muddy Waters’ percussionist for 18 years before launching a solo career as a vocalist and harmonica player. And he who grew up in Muddy’s former South Side home.

Smith delivers a musical tip of the hat to his forebears here, but it serves simply as the foundation of what is truly a contemporary set. He relies on modern polyrhythms to lay the foundation as he delivers an all-original collection of tunes that echo the sights and sounds of the inner city — where he grew up — far more than that of any cotton field.

Recorded at Blaise Barton’s Grammy-winning JoyRide Studio on Chicago’s West Side, Kenny handles vocal and percussion duties throughout aided by a cross section of several of the best musicians, young and old, that the city has to offer. Billy Flynn, Ari Seder, Buddy Guy’s son Greg, Nelson Strange and Guy King alternate on guitars while Omar Coleman and Sugar Blue share harmonica duties.

Luca Chellini provides piano and organ while Felton Crews, who’s played with everyone from Miles Davis to Charlie Musselwhite, holds down bass. Andrea Miologos, Dana Gordon and Kimberly Johnson deliver backing vocals. And his three young children — Mae, Clara and Theodore – serve as a heartwarming chorus for one cut.

The music’s Mississippi heritage comes through strong and clear in the opener, “Head Pounder,” aided by Flynn on sitar. The Delta polyrhythms that initiate the tune are quickly enveloped in the beat of the city as Smith describes having a worried mind as he searches for the reason why. It’s somewhat unsettling and  delivers its message, which is intensified by multi-tracking and state-of-the-art technology throughout.

The mood brightens for the “Hey Daddy,” a sweet, clean shuffle that features call-and-response between Kenny and the kids as Coleman’s harp floats in the background. The theme’s simple: All the children have to do is speak the words of the title and he’ll make things right no matter what’s going on. The mood darkens and the sound gets funky for “Drop The Hammer,” a slow-and-steady warning to someone who gets in the singer’s face.

“Scratchin’ Your Head” hints of Slim Harpo as Smith tells his lady to leave his clothes in the yard because he’d found another woman the night before. Polyrhythms are back for “What In The World,” which wonders if the lady’s turned the tables and is glaring at him as she speaks to the other man on the phone. “No Need Brotha’,” a straight-ahead slow blues featuring Sider and Guy on guitars, deals with being treated like a second-class citizen while the percussive “Puppet On A String” describes a female playa who wants everything her own way.

The pleasing “Keep On Pretending” speaks out against prejudice atop a sweet shuffle before Crews drives “Living Fast” from the bottom as Smith announces he’s no longer running the street now that he has a new lady at his side or has any interest in a “Second Hand Woman,” which follows. The blues-rocker “One Big Frown,” which features Johnson on vocals, wonders why she’s being treated so bad before the quiet instrumental, “Moment Of Silence,” provides time for reflection as it brings the album to a close.

Available through most major retail outlets, Drop The Hammer is a winner on all counts. Highly recommended for anyone with a taste for modern sounds but strong blues roots.

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