Artist: Jimmy Smith
Album: Back at the Chicken Shack
Year: 1960 (1963)
Genre: Soul Jazz
“Smooth Organ playing”
Before I get started I feel it’s very important to set you, the reader, straight about something first. This might seem like a disappointment right off the bat, but believe me when I say it really isn’t. You’ll feel betrayed but the album will redeem itself, you’ll have to trust me on this one.
Are you ready? ok…
For an album called Back at the Chicken Shack there is a surprisingly huge lack of chickens in it. I know, I know… it’s appalling… awful… plain unforgiving.
Not even a cluck or a gobble? No, not even.
So to satisfy your poultry needs here’s a picture of a beautiful chicken wearing pants:
There, now we can all sleep happily.
I think Jimmy Smith saved my life. Ok, that might be a gross exaggeration. I was coming off the heels of the Everly Brother’s and there whiny voices, wondering if music could ever be good again and as Cathy’s Clown (expletive removed) faded to obscurity never to be heard again, this album started. This beautiful, beautiful album.
This album probably seemed way better than it really was only because it followed A Date with the Everly Brothers and my mind went from “God please end” to “Jazz, my old friend, never leave me again”. I think I’ve taken Jazz for granted all those times I wanted it to stop being clingy and it came back to save my life. I will never let you go Jazz, never again.
That being said, this album is pretty damn great. Jimmy Smith is one hell of an organ player and I honestly would sit through an entire album that consists only of him playing the organ layered on top of other organs. Just pure organ chaos. That’s an idea right there, someone should get on that.
As a whole, the jazz in the album doesn’t actually offer much. It’s no different than any of the jazz I heard on previous albums and for the most part, doesn’t stand out as it’s own. That is… except for one crucial element: The Organ (as mentioned above). The Organ is really what ties the album together and allows it to surpass expectations and go beyond what we know jazz to be. It’s also thanks to this album and Jimmy Smith’s playing that the organ itself started to find it’s way into jazz albums and mainstream music. if it weren’t for this, Soul Jazz probably wouldn’t have really been a thing, which is a shame because it’s quickly become one of my favourite stylings of Jazz.
And before you get a weird visual in your head, no it’s not a church organ I’m talking about. It’s that one special organ we’ve all come to love (at least those who have listened to it). It’s none other than the famous Hammond B3 Organ.
Pictured here so you can visualise it in all its glory.
It’s quite the amazing instrument and even though you might have no idea what I’m talking about (although some of you most probably do), you have most definitely heard this before. The gurgling and bubbling synthetic organ noises that sound as if they’re being played through an underwater speaker. The crisp sustain that wahs and the plucky fast notes that blurp and bloop. My onomatopeic descriptions are hardly doing it justice, but that gives you more reason to listen to this album to see for yourself.
Obviously, I can’t end this without mentioning the skills of the other band mates who hold up a majority of the songs with their own instruments. The sax playing is just beautifully done and I got excited every time I heard a sax solo. Although the organ is the true hero of the album, the rest of the band plays their part in bringing it together as a whole, which required a ton of skill and precision on their parts often seen in jazz but should still not go unnoticed. We see you back there, don’t worry.
This was also an instance where I listened to the extended CD version rather than the original LP. Thankfully, unlike the Marty Robbins album that added songs and completely rearranged them, this one only tacked on one song at the end and I didn’t mind at all. One more song meant more Jimmy Smith to enjoy and since it was just tacked on at the end it was like a little bonus to my listening experience.
Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go find some chickens. Not for anything weird… I just like to watch them… they’re funny… right?
Song of Choice: Back at the Chicken Shack
Photoshop Credit: Julian Branco