Keep On Smilin’
Supporting Players: Kenny Greenberg, Nick Buda, Steve Mackey
Jimmy Hall and guitarist Kenny Greenberg have been playing together for over 30 years. My record collection includes a benefit compilation called Nashville Homegrown, which includes a song by Jimmy Hall & the Prisoners of Love with Kenny Greenberg. Hall was already a veteran blues singer, saxophonist, and harmonica player at that point, known for his work with the legendary Alabama band Wet Willie. In addition to Hall and Greenberg, the four-piece band consisted of Nick Buda on drums and Steve Mackey on bass. They were air-tight and a dictionary-like definition of professional.
The first set opened with “Deaf, Dumb, Crippled, and Blind,” which happened to be the track that was on that old compilation record. This song (and practically every song in their two sets this night) was played with the ease of breathing in fresh air. What was refreshing was the undisguised joy which every song was approached. This wasn’t carefree, unbridled joy, but rather a well-seasoned joy that comes from doing what you love for a long time.
Jimmy Hall moved from saxophone to harmonica with ease and belted out songs like Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog” and Willie Dixon’s “Twenty Nine Ways to Make It to My Baby’s Door” with his legendary power and control. Greenberg made the intricate playing seem easy, and the rhythm section kept the bottom firmly in place.
Jimmy Hall is a Nashville institution. It was clear that most of the audience had seen this show or ones like it dozens if not hundreds of times before, and it was equally clear that they would keep coming as long as Hall kept bringing it. Last night, he showed no signs of stopping any time soon.
After a short break, the band came back to the stage and picked off right where they left off. This was no-frills music. The energy and pyrotechnics emanated solely from the music being played. The second set was highlighted by Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw” and a pair of Wet Willie songs: “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” from Wet Willie II, and the show-closing “Keep On Smilin’,” from the album of the same name. Hall introduced the latter song as his theme song. This night made it clear he was telling the truth, There were smiles all around, and that is one of the best things about the blues.