If one has never heard of Smoky Greenwell, here’s a bit of a quick history lesson. Smoky is a former member of the band War (1994-1996) and has also teamed up with Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule and Allman Brothers fame in a project called Blues Co-op. His name is synonymous with blues in New Orleans.
Smoky was born in Michigan on the 4th of July in 1951. He was raised in Delaware and schooled in Spain and Tennessee. He learned to play the harp in the 70s and became a session player at Sun Studios in the 80s. He went to New Orleans for a gig at the Old Absinthe Bar and decided to stay.
His first live album is titled “Smoky Greenwell’s New Orleans Jam, Live at the Old U.S. Mint”. It’s his first live CD after 9 studio recordings. His band consists of Pete Bradish on drums, David Hyde on bass and Jack Kolb on guitar. Special guests include Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes on accordion and Mark Pentone on guitar.
The first thing one thinks is, “I can see myself sitting at this show and enjoying it”. This writer didn’t lose interest after a couple of tunes. The next thing that comes to mind is the tone of Smoky’s harp. Tone is everything for a harp player.
The disc starts with a hot number called “Smoke Alarm” that sets the mood for what will follow. Next is a good story telling song titled “My Own Blues Club”. It’s about owning a blues club and then having to sell it for a loss. Smoky then puts down the harp for a sax and does a nice instrumental of “Peter Gunn”.
Tracks 5 and 6 are songs penned by guest guitarist Mark Pentone. “Jodie” and “I Earned the Right to Sing the Blues” have a medium tempo highlighting well timed harp and guitar sections.
Turning to current events is “Between Iraq and a Hard Place”. It asks the question of “Why are we in a war based on lies when our country has its own problems?” A pleasing cover of Mighty Joe Young’s “Need a Friend” is next.
In steps Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes with his accordion on tracks 9 and 10. “Love’s Gone” not only has Sunpie’s accordion, but Smoky picks up the sax again. There’s a nice guitar and accordion interplay going on here. “Leroy’s Shuffle” has Smoky blowin’ the harp with a well placed guitar solo. Both tunes feature vocals of Barnes.
The disc concludes with “Back to the Boogie”. It’s a six and a half minute jam that would make John Lee Hooker proud. Harmonica and guitar both shine here. It’s a great finish to an enjoyable live set. Yes Virginia, there is good blues outside of Chicago.