Music Review: Get a Little

G. E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band released Get a Little on Liberty Records in 1992, while performing as the house band on the long-running late-night comedy show. Fans who enjoyed the band’s instrumental segues into and out of commercial breaks will find plenty to enjoy in this collection of music, including some solid lyrics rarely heard by the television audience.

A rhythm and blues style dominates this recording from the first cut, which is also the title track.  Winding in and out of a very basic blues rhythm set with drums and piano, the band’s very good horn section alternates between helping keep the beat and dueling with Smith’s eloquent guitar.  As Smith sings “Long legs, tight dress, whoo baby, I’m impressed” to the lucky lady from whom he wishes to “Get a Little,” he implores her further with rich but urgent solos.  This song opens the effort strongly, hooking blues and rock fans alike to listen further.

Listeners get an eclectic mix of blues, a little jazz, rock, and even a ballad.  Besides the title track, the band offers a sad, piano-heavy bluesy tune, “Might as Well Get Drunk,” with Smith singing in an intentionally raspy voice, backed up by a despondent saxophone, and “Willy d’s Blues,” an instrumental blues tune that allows the horn section to demonstrate the beautifully mournful sound skillful musicians can coax from trumpets and saxophones.

This horn section also brings a bit of jazz to their take on the blues.  Lenny Pickett and Earl Gardner fill “Gin Blossoms,” an otherwise standard mix of blues guitar and drums, with long jazzy sax and trumpet solos that show the versatility required of a band that plays its biggest gig on television.

The Saturday Night Live Band rocks as well, particularly on the only two tracks written by someone other than Smith.  “Monkey Hips and Rice,” a humorous tale of a very strange dinner (ultimately enjoyed) written by Lowman Pauling, offers Jerry-Lee-Lewis style piano riffs layered within a strong backbeat.  And “Fattenin’ Frogs for Snakes,” written by Edgar Sneed and Willie Perryman, rocks all the way out, with Mickey Curry playing the most powerful drums on the record, and Smith on lead guitar dancing madly around the beat set by Curry and by Marshall Crenshaw on rhythm guitar.

This worthy, and unfortunately only, effort misses a couple of beats. “Forgotten Songs,” the ballad that closes the album, features delectable backup vocals by Roseanne Cash, but this record begs for a crescendo finish of horns and guitars.  Closing with a deep sigh leaves the listener hungry for one more song.  A better spot for this one might have been between “Gin Blossoms” and “Helldrive,” one of the album’s two weak tunes.  “Helldrive” offers a dark, instead of simply sad, sort of blues, elsewhere missing on this record – but the horns in the song get repetitive, and the entire thing sounds enough like the song before it to leave the listener wondering.  And the longest song on the album, “Fat Girl/Last Month of the Year,” is also the weakest.  The very interesting Native American style drumbeat rhythm does not save the repetitive and incomprehensible lyrics.  “Fat girl, fish belly, fat girl, fish head” makes sense only to Smith, and even a solid sax solo carries few listeners along while Smith and his backup vocalists sing the calendar.

These minor distractions aside, Smith’s collaboration with engineer Rich Travali resulted in a selection of solid blues recordings with a touch of jazz and rock tumbled in.  Smith writes good songs, and mostly chose well for the inclusion on this album. He has a versatile vocal style, and cleverly matches it with the lyrical and musical content of each song.  The members of the Saturday Night Live Band, session musicians all, show on this record why Lorne Michaels chose them to play on a popular television show.  They make up a powerful and versatile rhythm and blues band that can also rock out a bit.

Sadly, this particular group made no other recordings. Some of these performers joined Smith on a later effort, Incense, Herbs, and Oils, released in 1998 by Green Mirror Music.  And G. E. Smith can be heard playing with a variety of stars, from Jimmy Buffet (Six String Music) to Mick Jagger (She’s the Boss).  But someone should bring these souls together again to see if they can Get a Little more.

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