Byther Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Byther Smith 

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Byther Smith's emotionally intense, somewhat elemental blues style reflects the hardscrabble life he's led. Born in Monticello, Mississippi, in 1932, he lost both his parents when he was still a toddler, and shortly thereafter one of his sisters died in a fire. As a young man he boxed and did manual labor, but once he moved to Chicago in 1957, he hit the south-side blues circuit and soon started recording. In the mid-80s he toured overseas for the first time, and 1988's Housefire (Razor) expanded his international reputation. He's in a relatively lighthearted mood on parts of his latest, Throw Away the Book (Black & Tan), tweaking and reinventing other musicians' themes. "Running to New Orleans," set to the defining riff of the Stones' "Miss You," also reprises the string-shiver sound of Otis Rush's "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)"; "Things I Used to Do" grafts a boisterous new melody and rhythm onto Guitar Slim's lyrics; "I Didn't Get None" rehabs a Willie Mabon theme; and the jaunty "Mean Old Daddy" borrows ideas from Bill Doggett's "Hold It" and Jody Williams's "Hideout." "The Man Wants Me Dead," a remake of a Smith original that first appeared on Housefire, is a nightmarish blast of paranoia, and "Never Stopped Loving You," with Smith's voice alternately quavering and choking with anguish, sounds like a dispatch from the innermost circles of hell. The Linsey Alexander Band opens. Friday 15, 9:30 PM, Kingston Mines, 2548 N. Halsted, 773-477-4646, $15. See also Saturday.


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