Packrat’s Smokehouse – Men Of The Swamp Live | Album Review

Packrat’s Smokehouse – Men Of The Swamp Live

Black Frost Music

13 songs – 118 minutes

Based out of the mangrove swamps outside New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Packrat’s Smokehouse is a collection of veteran musicians who produce a hybrid form of music that merges Delta and Louisiana wetlands sounds into what they term “Florida swamp blues.” The resulting mix is funky and steamy, too, as this two-hour live set demonstrates.

The band was formed in 1989 by multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Anthony “Packrat” Thompson and guitarist Robert “Lightning Boy” Thomas in an attempt to cross-breed of Howlin’ Wolf, a product of White Station, Miss., with the sounds of Lazy Lester and Lightnin’ Slim, swamp blues legends whose biggest recordings were released on Excello Records.

A five-piece unit that includes Kenny “The Wizard” Sly on bass and Aaron “Pop” Watson and Peter Beers on percussion, the group might not be a familiar name to most blues lovers, but Packrat’s Smokehouse has toured Europe and the U.S. extensively in their three-decade run, and their recording history includes albums on two of the most important independent labels of the late 20th century: two releases on Atlanta’s Ichiban Records and two more on King Snake, which was based out of Sanford, Fla.

Disc one of the two-disc set includes nine tunes recorded at Babe James Center in the band’s home town while disc two is a four-song set captured at the legendary Bradfordville Blues Club in suburban Tallahassee. Keyboard players Lois Ridgill and Gerard Guida make guest appearances in a collection of familiar covers and fan-favorite originals.

“The Night Jack Frost Killed Possum Brown,” an unhurried song that debuted on King Snake in the ‘90s, opens the action. After a muffled spoken intro, it’s clear from the jump that these guys are going to dig a ditch rhythmically, climb in it and stay there all night as they produce a brand of music that would fit comfortably in any Mississippi juke. Packrat’s warmly accented voice is a rich baritone. He’s primarily an old-school harp player whose techniques mix Chicago and the Mississippi swamp.

Lightnin’ Boy takes over the mike for a cover of Lightnin’ Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues.” He possesses similar vocal attributes, his six-string work is crisp and slightly behind the beat. The Jimmy Reed standard “Hush Hush” precedes the band’s “Low Down Rider,” followed by the Wolf classic, “Smoke Stack Lightnin’.” The loping original boogie, “95 South,” comes complete with numerous images of the highway as it meanders from New Smyrna toward Miami before a 12-minute take on Reed’s “Caress Me Baby.”

The first disc powers forward for another 14 minutes with the uptempo “Smokehouse Boogie” before concluding with “Hoo Doo Woman Blues,” another original from the ‘90s. The second set dips into Reed’s catalog for the third time with an extend take of “You Don’t Have To Go” launches into the originals “Sue City Sue” — not to be confused with the Gene Autry song of a similar name – and “Them Creepin’ Blues” before finishing the night with a 13-minute “Hoo Doo Woman Blues” redo.

Packrat’s Smokehouse delivers blues that are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Although there’s no new material here, it’s still a treasure for folks who like bar bands at the top of their game. Available through the group’s website (address above).

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