Duster Bennett – Smiling Like I’m Happy – Blue Horizon (1968)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2011) 7-63208 180-gram stereo audiophile vinyl, 40:35 ***:
(Duster Bennett – harmonica, guitar, bass drum, high-hat cymbal; Stella Sutton – vocals; Peter Green – guitar; John McVie – bass; Mick Fleetwood – drums; Ham Richmond – piano)
The British blues scene thrived in the sixties. Popular rock groups like The Rolling Stones, Cream, The Animals and Led Zeppelin rebranded American blues and in some ways reintroduced it to their American fan base. However, there was a more traditional blues scene with the likes of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Long John Baldry and Fleetwood Mac. These bands thrived on the more austere parameters of this genre, without the guarantee of commercial success.
Among this hardcore blues establishment was a modern day one-man-band named Duster Bennett (not a bad moniker at that). He possessed an uncanny ability to play harmonica, guitar (a 1952 Les Paul Goldtop given to him by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green) and bass drum simultaneously. Green and Top Topham performed with him on mostly original “Jimmy Reed” inspired material. Additionally he was a session player, recording with John Peel (Top Gear) and received some notoriety as an opening act and band member of Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1970. His career stalled in the seventies, but he remained popular on the local blues club circuit. Unfortunately in 1976 after performing with Memphis Slim, he died in a tragic car accident.
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered his 1968 Blue Horizon debut, Smiling Like I’m Happy to state-of-the-art 180-gram audiophile vinyl. Twelve concise tracks (40 minutes) of predominately original material is performed by the solitary blues band that is Duster Bennett. He is an energetic harp player as indicated by the opening track, “Worried Mind” and is credible as a singer. The format of bass drum-guitar-harmonica shifts between up tempo and slower numbers. At times this concept is hit-or-miss, occasionally affected by repetition. However, “Trying To Paint It In The Sky” is more nuanced with its slower groove, and “Country Jam” reinvigorates the record with frenetic play, while “Got A Tongue In Your Head” is effective driving, electric blues. “Life Is A Dirty Deal” attempts a “down and dirty” statement, but falls short.
Occasional piano runs by Bennett (under the alias, Ham Richmond) add some coloration, but not enough. On “Times Like These” he elicits a two-part harmony from girlfriend Stella Sutton which adds a touch of rootsy charm. The indisputable highlight is the track with Fleetwood Mac, “My Love Is Your Love” Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have always been one of the tightest rhythm sections to ever play and this anchors the tune. Peter Green’s crashing, searing guitar licks are noteworthy. Bennett executes some rolling barrelhouse piano chords and there is significant chemistry. More of this dynamic would have elevated the project.
Though uneven, Smiling Like I’m Happy” is an interesting glimpse of a peripheral contributor to British blues. Pure Pleasure Records has reproduced this album with excellent stereo separation and instrument tone (especially on the harmonica). The liner notes (from 1968) include a humorous description of how to play this stereo record on mono “reproducers”. [That’s a bit late—since the stereodisc came out in 1958…Ed.]
Side One: Worried Mind; Life Is A Dirty Deal; Country Jam; Trying To Paint It In The Sky; Times Like These; My Lucky Day
Side Two: Got a Tongue In Your Head; Jumping At Shadows; 40 Minutes From Town; Shame, Shame, Shame; My Love Is Your Love; Shady Little Baby
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered 180-gram vinyl of this late jazz icon.