"They say the blues started in New Orleans. Who knows, it could have started right here in Washington," said Carrie Smith last night at Charlie's. With that, the lusty contralto began popping her fingers, shaking her ample hips, and when she raised her head in song, it seemed like the club itself was swaying to her "Birth of the Blues."
Smith, who has long been associated with her namesake, Bessie Smith, was in a delightfully mischievous mood during her first set. A performance of hers wouldn't be complete without a few nods to Bessie. "Empty Bed Bues" and "Backwater Blues" seemed perfect choices, each exploring a different facet of Bessie's appeal and personality.
But instead of confining herself to an all-Bessie program, as she has in the past, Carries now covers a number of pop and jazz standards. Ellington's "Solitude" was enlivened, as were many of her songs, by full-throated gospel inflections that made each word count. The insouciance of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose" seemed to capture her mood best, and she delivered them with great style and warmth.
Throughout, pianist Andre Franklin, bassist Paul Langosh and drummer Bill Reichenbach followed her every move. Smith performs through Sunday.