Big Robert Smith

With the El Orbits and Friends

The late Big Robert Smith, Third Ward-bred vocalist for everyone from Grady Gaines to Albert Collins during his 50-plus-year career, was a belter, not a singer or even shouter. His foghorn of a voice was pitched something like a baritone sax, and the rotund dynamo with the wavy processed 'do never blew his instrument with anything less than full-on gusto. Smith could sing anything — pop, blues, soul, classic rock — and does on this live disc recorded at the Continental Club in 2005. He's at his best on ballbusters like "Rock Me," "Old Time Rock and Roll" and especially "Knock On Wood," which comes complete with several trademark bloodcurdling screams. He doesn't fare quite as well on more delicate songs such as "Fever" and "Dock of the Bay." Smith's voice is a poor fit for the former, and the latter is marred by some El Orbits slip-ups. And I dig standards as much as anybody, but wish Big Robert would have chosen either "Mustang Sally" or "Stormy Monday," not both. But quibbles aside, this is a solid Texas blues disc that recalls those Sunday-evening soirees and Blue Monday jams over on Dowling Street or down in Sunnyside that, sadly, are rapidly slipping into Houston's past.

 
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