CD Review: Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson – Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson

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This CD review was originally published in the November 15, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith & Roger “Hurricane” Wilson – Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson

Bluestorm Records

hurricanewilson.com

13 tracks / 64:23

Blues has evolved through the years, and there are so many different variations that it would be impossible to figure them all out, but every once in a while you stumble across blues in its pure form. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is just such a collection of music, and it is a real treasure. This is a live CD from Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson that was recorded on December 11, 2009 at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This was a sold out show, and the crowd sure had a real treat that evening!

Willie “Big Eyes” Smith was a legendary bluesman, and a skilled vocalist, harmonica player and drummer. You probably know him best as a sideman for Muddy Waters, although he had quite a career that culminated in winning the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album with fellow legend Pinetop Perkins. Sadly, Willie passed on last year so we will not be blessed with his magical harp playing anymore, which makes this recording all the more precious.

Roger “Hurricane” Wilson put together this project, wrote four of the songs, and is a veteran bluesman in his own right. He plays over 200 shows per year, travelling around the United States in his recreational vehicle; he has been gigging for 40 years, and has been playing in his own bands since 1978. Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is his eighth album, and it was released under his own Bluestorm Records.

As the CD starts out with the Sonny Boy Williamson song, “Eyesight to the Blind” you will hear that this is a stripped down blues show with one guitar, one harmonica and two voices. This recording catches all of the nuances of their live show, and the harp, guitar and voices are well mixed; you will find that the sound quality is consistent throughout. Coming in at a little under three minutes this is the shortest song of the collection and is a nice warm up piece.

Not surprisingly we get to hear a few Muddy Waters tunes too: “Long Distance Call,” “Got my Mojo Workin’,” and “Can’t be Satisfied.” “Long Distance Call” is remarkably restrained, and Smith’s harmonica howls on this one while his voice is seasoned and rich. “Got my Mojo Workin’” is more uptempo with a little shaker percussion to spice things up, and Smith and Wilson give a little back and forth on the vocals. These classic songs are great to hear in this stripped down format.

Slim Harpo’s chart-topper “Scratch My Back” starts off with 3 minutes of harmonica and some tasteful guitar picking. There is not really much to the lyrics on this one, which allows the performers the opportunity to shine. “Hoochie Coochie Man” from Willie Dixon is always a winner and was certainly a crowd favorite the evening this was recorded. As with the rest of the album, Wilson holds a rock steady beat with his guitar playing, and he really digs in on this one while doing a fine job on the vocals. Listening to Smith’s harp on this one makes you realize that there really are different levels of harmonica players, and he was definitely top shelf material.

A little dialogue gives the early history of Louie Carr’s “How Long Blues,” an 8-bar blues classic that has been recorded in every genre imaginable. These guys capture the original country blues spirit of this song, and Wilson’s voice brings out the hound dog sadness of the lyrics. “Willie’s Boogie Finale” is a neat instrumental to wrap up the CD, and it is not surprising that it showcases his talent on the harmonica. It was a certainly a good choice to bookend this album, and Willie’s sentiment “If you enjoyed yourself tonight as much as I did, you’d go home in peace” is a fitting end.

Live Blues Protected by Smith & Wilson is a great collection of songs that is presented by two really neat guys. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Roger “Hurricane” Wilson had a great chemistry, and unfortunately will not be collaborating again (at least not in this world). I have to strongly recommend that you give it a listen.

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