Byther “Smitty” Smith is as powerful a blues poet as any working today, with musical chops to back it up–yet he remains relatively unknown. His album Housefire, on the Razor label (reissued in 1991 on Bullseye Blues), showcased him roaring out lyrics that seemed to emanate from realms of torment few others have mined and firing raw arpeggios through sustained phrases with a keening fierceness. Mississippi Kid, his new recording on Delmark, shows that he’s lost none of his power. “Judge of Honor” is a desperate plea from a man determined to defend his manhood at all costs: “That man he stood right here, talkin’ that long rap to me / Lord, that give me the right to break his jaw with a left and right.” In “President’s Daughter” the singer marries the young woman of the title, gets arrested for it, and finds himself lost in a Kafkaesque legal tangle. “Give Me My White Robe” is a harrowing minor-key number about a near-death experience. Through it all, Smitty’s solos cut with an unerring directness. He delivers a refreshing blast of creative lyrics and straight-ahead musicianship in a genre increasingly populated by poseurs. Saturday, 9:30 PM, Rosa’s, 3420 W. Armitage; 342-0452. Sunday and next Sunday, August 18, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Byther Smith by James Fraher.