July 2000

Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers - Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing
Fat Note Records FN0002
Released: 2000

by Doug Blackburn

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Yes, there certainly is something to say about Miss Thing, mainly that she’s the kind of woman other women try to keep their husbands away from. You know the type -- flirty and likely to follow-up on it if pursued in the slightest. Miss Thing, a.k.a. Lavay Smith, creates her particular brand of music with the classic sound of the best-in-white big-band sound of the 1940s and 1950s combined with the slightly naughty demeanor of some of the female blues singers of the 1950s and 1960s. Her songs have an almost continuous flirty/naughty under-story that is sometimes lightly or heavily camouflaged. Lavay Smith’s voice is a cross between a white big-band chanteuse and a later blues mama. She is not as rough as the blues mamas are, but not as innocent as big-band princesses. Her full-figure chassis is on pin-up display in the cover art, which lends yet another measure of nostalgia to the proceedings.

All the while, the Red Hot Skillet Lickers (a rather gross mental image) support Lavay Smith with a smooth and tasty big-band and jazzy blues sound. The Skillet Lickers are given opportunities to jam for extended periods in a number of songs, and jam they can. It is in these jams where they distance themselves from the past by actually elevating the musical proceedings. They inject a higher level of jazz musicianship in these instrumental interludes than would have been acceptable or possible back in the day. But these instrumental interludes aren’t as hot and loud as you might expect; they actually retain the demeanor and range of the tunes themselves, more cool than hot.

The result of the Skillet Lickers and Lavay Smith’s collaboration is either old-new or new-old depending on how well versed you are in big-band music. Those who know the old music well will feel a sort of updated nostalgia when listening to Lavay and the Lickers. Younger folk who know Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Royal Crown Review and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will find Lavay Smith mining a slightly different vein of gold, staking out a corner of Nuevo Retro music that is not already being explored. Lavay Smith and the Lickers are smoother, cooler and more mature-sounding. You don’t get the high-energy jump and jive you get from other retro groups. This music isn’t for jitterbugging; it's for lazing on the bed in silk pajamas eating strawberries and drinking champagne, just like a real bad girl who is very good to her men. When you aren’t interested in romance and you prefer something flirty and almost dirty, Lavay is your girl.

Sound-wise, the production falls short of the best commercial recordings. The bass seems restricted, and the level of what is there seems too low. There is a thickness to the sound that blocks any sense of transparency. There isn’t a lot of sparkle on the top end and no real sense of space or depth either. All that said, you can enjoy the music here as long as you aren’t demanding a lot sound-wise. I found this disc much more enjoyable in the car than in the big rig at home.

If you can’t find this self-produced and self-promoted CD at record stores, you can order it from the website or by mail for $16 USD or $20 Canadian.