Incense, Herbs & Oils
Louisiana Red Hot Records
Live at the North Star Bar, Philly, PA

Back when ‘Saturday Night Live’ meant something, when the skits were so funny you couldn’t wait to get back to the office on Monday and start talking about them, their was one guy, a white-hot guitarist that took you to commercials every fifteen minutes. That guy, G.E. Smith, had more versatility and dexterity than most guest musicians that played on the show as featured acts. When the quality of the SNL skits took a dive, Smith’s outros became featured attractions in and of themselves as guests like Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards and Buddy Guy would sit in with the band.

Smith’s repertoire reads like a fantasy record collection. He’s played with, performed with and been musical director for more musicians than you’d hear in a week on classic rock radio. His six year stint with Hall and Oats (1979-85) was a constant seat at the top of the pop charts. Smith then stepped off to join Saturday Night Live (1985-95) as musical director and house guitarist. He has toured with Bob Dylan, won an Emmy in 1988 and been the musical director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The guitarist was in town to promote his recent CD Incense, Herbs & Oils, a soulfully rich collection of New Orleans-style blues and watertight drifters. Highlights include The CooCoo, Amos Moses and the brilliant Heroin. Smith’s back-up band is a complement to its leader as Paul Ossola (b), Steve Holley (d), Tom Cosgrove (g) ignite a blazing fire that rages through Smith’s two hour plus set.

Making it a bit of a family affair, Smith’s wife Taylor Barton opens the show with her own original set which includes husband G.E. backing her. The night ends up as a near four hour marathon and a fascinating view of G.E.’s many styles. Barton herself, praised in Rolling Stone as “projecting a lush, nurturing romanticism” captivates her live crowd with chameleon-like versatility. Her second album, Skinny Kat resembles her live act with delicate charm and gutsy theatrics though never over-done. The two make quite a team and are well worth an early visit to the club. Smith, though subtle and reserved during Barton’s opening set, is dominating to the point of complete possession when showcasing his own wares. Both have a pure American sound.