Get the Flash Player to see this player.
Although they usually are associated with the Southern rock scene in Macon, GA during the ’70s, Wet Willie was always about R&B, funk, soul and greasy blues. They were a band best experienced in a live setting. Frontman Jimmy Hall was who Mick Jagger really wanted to be, and the group played with a fire that could burn down any venue. After a string of successful albums, Wet Willie called it a day in 1982, but now they are back and better than ever, as Miles of Smiles proves. Recorded in Woodstock GA, back in August 2011, this album is full of high-octane music and captures the essence of a Wet Willie performance. The family-oriented group now consists of Jimmy on lead vocals, sax and harp, brother Jack on bass and sister Donna Hall-Foster on vocals. Joining them are long-time guitarist/vocalist Ric Seymour, with T.K. Lively on drums, Ricky Chancey on guitar and keyboardist Bobby Mobley.
As the band vamps their way into “One Track Mind,” one can sense that a good time is about to unfold, and unfold it does. Jimmy is all over the vocals, and there is a groove a mile wide as the rhythm section of Jack and T.K. holds it down while the rest of the band explores the funk limits of this one.
“She Caught the Katy” literally explodes out of the speakers, and compares favorably to the epic version found on the 1973 classic live album, Drippin’ Wet. Chugging guitars and Jimmy’s harp set up Bobby Mobley’s piano run, which provides a wonderful bounce. It’s a Taj Mahal song, but Wet Willie has made it their own for 40 years now.
Jimmy’s lilting sax opens up the spellbinding “Street Corner Serenade,” which swings with unabated joy. Jimmy has an old school R&B/gospel thing going on throughout, and the background vocals are soulful icing on the cake. “Street Corner” is a musical funfest - just think Otis Day and the Knights in Animal House. This is a major highlight on Miles of Smiles, one you will revisit often.
Ric Seymour and Donna Hall-Foster split vocal duties on the full-speed-ahead “Rock Steady.” Donna certainly can give her brother a run when it comes to singing with soulful passion, and this one rolls right along.
The smoldering “Lonely” reminds everyone that Jimmy Hall is an R&B vocal legend; his delivery aches with emotion, and Bobby adds timely notes on the piano to accentuate the song’s somber mood – this is another standout on the album
“Country Side of Life” was one of the funkiest numbers on 1974’s Keep on Smilin’, and that applies to this version on Miles of Smiles. Ric and Ricky play a sparse but efficient rhythm pattern, while Jimmy and Bobby team up on the sax and piano to make “Country Side of Life” a keeper.
“Easy Street” rocks hard, showing off the edginess of Wet Willie; T.K. is all over it, and Brother Jack gets to step out with thumping bass solo. “Easy Street” is followed by “Rendezvous with the Blues,” the title track from Jimmy’s 1996 solo album. Sultry and smooth, “Rendezvous” embodies the talent that is Jimmy Hall, complete with blues-soaked vocals and soulful inflections. The group falls in nicely behind him, and this cut will have a rendezvous with your play button early and often.
“Too Tall to Mambo,” also from Rendezvous with the Blues, is kicked off by T.K., who Jimmy hails as the “King of the Second Line.” Jumping sax, rollicking piano, strong harmonies and thrashing guitars round out “Too Tall” quite nicely.
The evocative “Lucy Was in Trouble” finds Wet Willie at its plaintive best. Jimmy and Donna blend their voices perfectly, and “Lucy” serves as a nice change of pace.
Based on Mama Louise Hudson’s H&H Restaurant in Macon, “Leona” charges out of the gate and never looks back. Jack and T.K. surge underneath, Ric Seymour rips on the slide guitar, Bobby serves up some tasty piano and Jimmy and Donna’s harmonies drip like honey. The floating “Same Ole Moon” is the spiritual moment on Miles of Smiles. The tune is dedicated to his father, and Jimmy sings it like a preacher on Sunday – it’s a gorgeous song that shines like a full moon on a warm Alabama evening.
Miles of Smiles wraps up with two vintage Wet Willie numbers: the smokin’ “Grits Ain’t Groceries” and the group‘s signature tune, “Keep on Smilin’.” They remind us that although four decades have passed, whenever Wet Willie takes the stage, they are still drippin’ wet with talent and passion.