Jimmy Witherspoon brings an originality to the blues that no revivalist can hope to match. As one of the stars of the original Los Angeles blues scene in the '40s, "Spoon" still maintained his distinctive style at Charlie's last night. He simmered the narrative verses in his deep, full baritone; he belted out the chorus aphorisms with gritty toughness that broke off with a crisp crunch. Whether trying to convince a lover ("Ain't I Good to You?") or his Georgetown patrons ("Times Getting Tougher Than Tough"), he twisted notes to precisely the quarter note that would be most persuasive.
Carrie Smith, who sang the opening set, has a better natural voice than Witherspoon--hers is a breathy alto that builds to thunderous proportions--but lacks his knack for finely-tuned phrasing. Though her big voice and radiant charm were most entertaining, her imitations of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith added nothing new.
Both singers used the expert local rhythm section of bassist Steve Novosel and drummer Harold Mann. Smith used fluid cocktail pianist Andre Franklin, while Witherspoon used local pianist Attrus Fleming, whose sassy ringing blues fills were a highlight of the evening. Witherspoon and Smith will be at Charlie's through Sunday.