Everybody's Talkin' 'bout Miss Thing!

Lavay Smith And Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers

Fat Note Records, 2000


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You have to wonder why any band these days would want to follow the path of big band music -- and I'm not talking about swing music repopularized by Cherry Poppin' Daddies or Brian Setzer. I personally have nothing against this kind of music; I grew up occasionally hearing it, and I happen to enjoy a spot of it from time to time, if only to clear out the pipes.

But commercially, big band music probably will never experience the same kind of rennaissance that other genres have. Bands who follow this path have to be absolutely in love with the music -- and I'll give Lavay Smith And Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers credit there, in that it sounds like all the band members truly are devotees of big band.

Their latest release, Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing!, is an occasionally interesting mixture of songs from the past and new compositions from Smith and her bandmates, combined in a package that is one part big band and one part sex appeal. If only it didn't sound listless from time to time.

To Smith's credit, the originals (all co-written by Smith and bandmate Chris Siebert, among others) have the feeling and sound as if they could have been penned in the 1940s, making sure that the atmosphere that the band wanted to create is kept alive throughout the recording. "The Busy Woman's Blues" almost sounds like it could have come from Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women (if you know blues music, you'll know who I'm referring to... we'll get to them one of these days here), and is pretty entertaining.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The same can be said for the title track, another song which, had I not read the liner notes, sounded like it was a remnant from the World War II era. Well written and well executed, these two songs set a good pace for the album.

But something goes wrong over the course of Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing! - and it's a little hard to pin down in words. It's almost as if the energy level of the music drops - and with it goes the interest level. On one point, it's almost as if the fire in the musicians has had some sand thrown on it; on another hand, it's almost as if Smith doesn't quite have the vocal range and power to pull off the show-stopping performance. Tracks like "I've Got A Feelin'," "I Want A Little Boy" and "Big Fine Daddy" all suffer from this fate.

Only two other tracks really don't work with this style. One is the "bonus Christmas" track, "Winter Wonderland" -- fine, talk to me when it isn't 90 degrees outside, gang. Maybe I'd be more receptive to this closer to the holidays, but I'm sure not ready to hear it in the middle of May. The other one, "Blow Me A Fat Note" -- I'm sorry, but this track just doesn't work for me, and is the only original that falls flat.

Things do improve for Smith and the band as the album progresses. Tracks like "He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped" (written by Dizzy Gillespie), "Sent For You Yesterday" and "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?" all prove that Smith and company have the chops and talent to pull off this style of music. "Do You Know..." is one track that was going to be difficult to top in my mind; I still remember hearing Marilyn Maxwell singing it on an Abbott & Costello radio show (no, I'm not that old; I had an audio tape), but Smith helps to put a different spin on the track, and it works.

The talent is obviously there - so what can Smith And Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers do to improve things? They might want to inject a little more life in some of their performances; on the tracks where the energy level dips, it almost sounds like the band is going through the motions. And Smith herself should try to take some more vocal challenges the next time around - not necessarily meaning she has to try to shatter glass with her voice. Some of these tracks almost suggest a "down-and-dirty" approach; she might want to try to use her voice to capture that.

Until then, Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing! is a decent, though flawed, portrayal of big band music in the 21st Century, and it often shows kids of today why their grandparents loved this kind of music. Face it: there's still a lot to love about it today.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fat Note Records, and is used for informational purposes only.