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Ray Smith

The Complete Wix Sessions – 2000 (Wix)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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Recorded in Canada circa 1978, where he was a club scene perennial, these raw sides are the only known studio tracks featuring Sun Records legend Ray Smith at the piano.

Legend has it, Jerry Lee Lewis showed Smith a few piano runs and the Rockin' Bandit taught himself the rest. The left-handed Paducah, Ky. native played impressively with his bass-hand though his treble-hand errs on the side of enthusiasm. This set's undisputed highlights are Smith's pumpin' versions of "Room Full Of Roses," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" "Me & Bobby McGee," and "Break Up." Most songs were recorded live in a single afternoon with no overdubbing. Subsequently, Smith's voice gets scratchier as the disc progresses, and the musicianship becomes a bit sloppy.

However, from the bloodcurdling scream unleashed on "Wipe Out" through the dicey 10-song Elvis tribute, "The King's Medley," we get an idea of the spontaneous way Smith worked in clubs. Moreover, his ability to switch from raucous secular ditties la "Let The Four Winds Blow" to the poignant sacred closer "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" are vivid proof his artistic potentials were never truly tapped. Indeed, his puzzling 1979 suicide ended a flourishing international comeback.

James Lott's remastered sound is crisp, and Steve Lester's smartly researched notes boast commentary from Smith's friend and admirer Narvel Felts. (Wix, P.O. Box 27, Hohenwald, TN 38462, E-Mail: Wixrecs@aol.com)