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A flood of seriously good new roots CDs
by Buddy Seigal
My desk is brimming with an unusually bountiful stack
of excellent new CD releases. Among the best is Everybody's Talkin'
'Bout Miss Thing (Fat Note Records), the sophomore effort from San
Francisco's LAVAY SMITH & HER RED HOT SKILLET LICKERS. I didn't
want to like this group, as their name is pilfered from Gid Tanner &
His Skillet Lickers, a popular hillbilly string band of the '20s. Plus
the whole retro swing fashion thing still makes Daddy want to catapult
his cookies (lose the cartoon nostalgia crap and I'll follow you anywhere,
guys). But dig this righteous jive, daddy-os (pppuuukkkkeee!):
Lavay and her boys are simply without peer in the neo-swing scene.
That's because they're not "neo" at all—the Skillet Lickers are bona fide
jazz players, proffering chops and Basie-esque arrangements to shame all
other modern groups of their ilk. Then there's Smith, whose sultry vocals
readily betray the influence of Billie Holiday, Little Esther and Dinah
Washington while sounding slavish to none. In short, this is a contemporary
swing band that actually swings, as in the verb. Bonus: following an
all-covers first album, the group now includes solid, credible originals—even
though they stole Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's patented "Kidney Stew" riff
on "The Busy Woman's Blues." We'll call it an homage.