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Archive for Thursday, April 16, 1998

S SMOOTHER SIDE

April 16, 1998

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The musician bucks the trends and paves his own way with the original rockers on his new release.

As I pulled into Chubby (who is anything but) Smith's new homestead in North Lawrence, the muffler on my car, dangling by a metallic thread, loudly announced my arrival.

Like many musicians, Smith has a few other trades he has plied throughout the years and, lucky for me, car repair is one of them.

It's not often an interviewee answers your questions and offers to fix your car, too. But Smith isn't a usual kind of guy.

Though many plug him into the swing or rockabilly category, Smith was raised on pure rock 'n' roll and has lived the blues, both influences on the music he writes.

``I was swing when swing wasn't cool. I missed out on the whole grunge thing,'' he said, adding that he was listening to lounge records picked up at thrift stores when bands like Nirvana ruled the airwaves.

The 1930s-`40s big-band sound caused him to add more horns to his band in the early `90s, creating the Chubby Smith Orchestra. But Smith, remaining true to his own progressions, later pared down to the Chubby Smith Five just as the big-band sound started sweeping the country again.

The quartet -- Smith on vocals, guitar, lap steel and harmonica, Cotter Mitchell on drums, Kevin Enos on bass, Ken Barry on tenor sax and Dave Randall on organ -- has created an extremely danceable repertoire of rollicking blues-fused tunes that stick easily in your head.

Many songs on the band's new release, ``Evil Keep Away,'' are familiar to those who have seen the band play in the past few years, but they carry a smoother sound than past efforts.

``I was playing catch-up,'' Smith said. ``In fact, one song, `My Baby Is a Gas Station of Love' is from 1991. There should have been an album between `Twistification' and `Hillbilly Thunder,' but there wasn't.''

Smith credits the smoother sounds to time well spent in James Grauerholz's Hairball Studio in Lawrence.

``We took a lot more time mixing the stuff,'' Smith said. ``One of the differences is this was done on digital equipment, which I used to cuss about, but once I figured out how to make that sound as nasty as the other stuff, I started to get better at it.''

Smith, a prolific songwriter, already has enough material for another CD and promises nothing older than 1997 on the next release.

And you might even hear his songs on other people's releases. The Paladins' Dave Gonzales recently expressed interest in covering Smith's ``Bluesbird'' from the ``Twistification'' release.

The Chubby Smith Five will be having a CD release party Saturday night at Kirby's in Wichita and Wednesday night at the Jazzhaus, 926 1/2 Mass. And if you need to, you might ask Smith about that funny sound your car has been making lately.

-- The Mag's phone message number is 832-7146. Send e-mail to biles@ljworld.com.

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