Big Bad Smitty
Cold Blood
HMG/High Tone 1003

A more apt title for this release would be Big Bad Smitty Sings the Hits of Howlin’ Wolf (And Others). Included are Wolf’s "I Asked For Water," "Killing Floor" and "Forty Four," as well as Willie Dixon’s "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy," which Wolf helped popularize. Smitty delivers these with power and conviction, but also in unabashed mimicry of the Wolf, who died in 1976. That’s nothing new: When long-time Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin first saw Smitty at the Burnley Blues Festival in England in 1992, he was said to shout, "It’s the Wolf!" Sumlin and Smitty jammed together at that festival, and were reunited for this 1993 recording. (Smitty suffered a stroke in 1994 and just recently returned to performing.)

Copying a more famous performer is certainly nothing new in the blues: Wolf himself began his career in the shadow of Charlie Patton (though it’s difficult to imagine Wolf imitating anyone), and Johnny Shines was known as "Little Wolf" in his early days for his coverage of Wolf’s material. Muddy Waters’ earliest work greatly leverages Son House and Robert Johnson. Of course, Wolf, Shines and Muddy outgrew these early efforts to create bodies of original work.

Cold Blood, still, is an immensely enjoyable session, if not an original one. Smitty does a damned good Wolf impersonation. The recording, which features Bennie Smith on guitar and Arthur "Mississippi" Williams on harmonica, captures the right instrumental tones for this musical setting. Sumlin, who appears on five tracks, makes his typically tasteful, punchy contribution. And certainly, he’s both familiar and comfortable with the material.

— Bryan Powell

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Boulder, CO, USA.