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Josh Smith – I’m Gonna Be Ready

Crosscut Records

12 tracks; 58.54 minutes + Bonus CD 4 tracks; 17.02

Josh Smith was born in Connecticut, started playing guitar when a teenager growing up in Florida and later moved to LA where he is an in-demand session player. In recent years he has held down the guitar slot in Taylor Hicks’ and Raphael Saadiq’s bands and toured extensively with both singers. He has released albums before, but the most recent was in 1999 (with Jim Gaines producing), so he clearly feels that the time is now right to get back to a solo career.

The CD covers a lot of ground and at times I can hear references to an array of great guitarists – BB King, T-Bone Walker, Robben Ford, Albert Collins - but Josh always remains his own man. All the material on the album is original and Josh has been able to call on a lot of LA-based players, including Kirk Fletcher, rhythm guitar on two tracks, Lynwood Slim, harp on one track and Fred Kaplan, piano on three tracks. James Gadson and Mike Clarke share the drum stool, Mike Mennell on bass and Jeff Young on keys are constants throughout; horns appear on three tracks courtesy of Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Lon Price on sax. Josh also produced the CD which was recorded in California.

A four track bonus CD of instrumentals is being given away with the first 3000 copies, so I’ll start with that. With titles “Penance”, “Fulfillment”, “Propulsion” and “Inception” you might imagine some sort of concept album, but that is not the case. In fact the four cuts are clearly designed to show Josh’s ability to work in widely different styles. “Penance” is a slow burning, atmospheric piece, the guitar reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s playing, well supported by the organ. “Fulfillment” is a jaunty piece with a touch of jazz rock; Josh gets some great tone on his guitar here and made me think of Robben Ford in the fluency of the playing. I loved the horns in their support role here, their only appearance on the EP. “Propulsion” takes us into bluegrass/country territory, the drums really setting a frenetic pace on the shortest of these instrumentals. “Inception” is more of a straightforward rock tune with a catchy refrain, the organ again playing a vital support role to allow Josh to weave his magic on the guitar. Overall a good introduction to Josh’s abilities.

Things get even better on the main CD however as Josh shows us that not only is he a good guitarist but also sings convincingly, again covering a number of styles within the blues idiom. First up “Fine Young Thing” is a shuffle with the added gloss of Lynwood Slim’s harp and Fred Kaplan’s piano. Josh is clearly enamored of his love – “You’re a fine young thing, and I can’t help but get along with you. When my eyes met you, knew that those other girls were through” and delivers an outstanding solo to support his lyrical statement. “Only You” brings the horns into play on a soulful piece that could be a missing Van Morrison piece from the 70s while Josh channels BB King in “Goin’ Out Tonight”. “The Way You Do” is a slow blues with more fine piano from Fred Kaplan and organ from Jeff Young.

“You And Me (Don’t Belong Together)” starts with an insistent drum beat that made me think initially of “Keep On Running”, but once the horns arrive to add their weight to the tune we get a lot more soulful and end up with a tune that sounds a lot like Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes – not blues, but absolutely up my street as The Jukes are one of my favorite bands, so this one hit the spot for me, with its rousing chorus and great horn arrangement. “I’m Gonna Be Ready” is the longest track on the CD, a mid-paced boogie with some tough guitar. The lyrics sound like a very personal statement from Josh: “People talk about me, they don’t know what I’ve got inside. I don’t even hear them, never going to turn to run and hide. But I’m going to stand my ground, stick with what I believe. People don’t know about all the tricks I’ve got up my sleeve. My time’s coming. I’m gonna hold on still; I’m gonna be ready.”

“Newtie” is an instrumental, not dissimilar from the tracks on the bonus CD. “Sober Up Baby” returns to a slower blues. Lyrically we are in the area of failing relationships due to the evils of drink, this time it’s the girl who has the ‘problem’ and Josh is the victim. I particularly enjoyed Josh’s extended solo here. “Where’s My Baby” is more of a shuffle, the organ again giving excellent support to the solid guitar playing. “Ain’t Enough” is another slowish boogie but “Already Found” is a departure, a light piece with a hint of gospel in the playing, particularly the organ. This is a clear statement of love: “From the moment I saw you I knew you were the one. Already found everything I was looking for, everything I was looking for I found it in you”. Josh’s solo skips along over the beat and the song is quite a nice contrast to the previous boogie piece. The final track is “Dead Wrong”, a mid-paced piece of blues rock with ringing guitar and a fine solo to close the CD on a high note.

It is always good to discover a new talent and that is what Josh Smith is to me. A name for us to watch out for if he continues to follow his blues muse. Meanwhile this CD comes with a ‘recommended’ tag.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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