Big Smith


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Big Smith plays high-kicking roots music with a strong bluegrass influence as well as the melodic eclecticism and loopy élan of a neo-hippie jam band, and with a list of ingredients like this, you might expect that they'd be better experienced live than on record. While fans may spend their time debating that point, Big Smith's 2002 album, Gig, manages to hit a solid middle ground between two worlds -- producer and engineer Lou Whitney gives this recording from a pair of fall 2001 shows the clear and compact sound of a studio session, while the apparently well-oiled and audibly enthusiastic audience prompts a lively performance from the band. Disc one leans toward Big Smith's acoustic side, with a healthy selection of traditional tunes demonstrating these guys could more than hold their own at a straight-up bluegrass fest, while disc two adds some more electricity to the mix, with the jam-friendly elements, goofy lyrics, and rolling keyboards rising up in the mix (though thankfully only four songs on Gig either hit or surpass the five-minute mark -- the members of Big Smith may love to solo, but they exhibit a degree of self-control other bands would do well to emulate). While they lack the wild-eyed musical adventure of the Bad Livers or the boozy roadhouse genius of the Gourds, Gig confirms they share just enough of their virtues to make them worthy of investigation for non-jam enthusiasts, and "Die, Dead, Die" suggests they might even have a good Southern rock album in them if they ever feel so inclined. (Each disc also includes a CD-ROM video track of Big Smith working the crowd at a January 2002 show.)

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