It turns out that Britain's best bluesman in the so-called white blues boom of the 1960s wasn't Eric Clapton, Peter Green, John Mayall, Eric Burden, Stevie Winwood or any of the other obvious contenders. It was Tony Bennett, or Tony "Duster" Bennett to be exact, a one-man band who combined a ragged and raw punk energy with sly songwriting skills to produce a body of work unlike any other in Europe or anywhere else. Bennett played seemingly every instrument imaginable, from kazoo to piano (sometimes all at once), and his voice, although technically not impressive, was uniquely his own and he somehow made it a completely expressive vehicle.
Duster released a handful of albums and some scattered singles in his lifetime (he died in a car accident in 1976 when he was just 28 years old), most of them for Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon Records, and although his recorded work was critically well received, he never enjoyed commercial success. This two-disc package includes all three of Bennett's LPs for Blue Horizon (Smiling Like I'm Happy, the live set Bright Lights and 12dbs) plus the various singles he released for the label between 1968 and 1970, and it makes for a steady delight, full of propulsive songs that continually take sudden, quirky turns. Keeping time on a kick drum and hi-hat while churning out a ragged, arresting rhythm on guitar and interjecting wild, horn-like harmonica figures between his vocal lines, Bennett projects an immediate, combustible energy that is impossible to ignore.
His shuffle rhythms may be drawn from Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo (he covers songs by both men here), but he amps things up from swampy laconic to extremely urgent and creates a very real kinetic tension in the process. But his hidden strength is in his songwriting, which is full of wry humor and surprisingly sly phrasal turns that mark him as a true original. Songs like "I'm Gonna Wind Up Ending Up Or I'm Gonna End Up Winding Up with You" and "If You Could Hang Your Washing Like You Can Hang Your Lines" are unlike anything else in the blues world, and for all their apparent syntactic complexity, they unwind naturally and easily. "Jumping at Shadows," which was covered by the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, may well be the best original blues song to ever come out of Britain, while "Trying to Paint It in the Sky" is simply a great song by any standards.
Other highlights on this wonderful collection include the racing "Worried Mind," the punk-paced and raw "Jumpin' for Joy," the country-tinged "Slim's Tune," and the blistering attack of "40 Minutes from Town." This guy was really something special.
Bennett had his own home studio and turned out scores of demo recordings, many of which have been compiled on several fascinating albums from Indigo Records (I Choose to Sing the Blues, Comin' Home, Blue Inside, Jumpin' at Shadows and Shady Little Baby). He also recorded an album of funk, soul and blues for the Australian label Toadstool called Fingertips. Released in 1975, Fingertips turned out to be Bennett's last official studio album. Castle/Sanctuary's double-disc Bright Lights Big City from 2003 draws highlights from all of these sources and makes a good introduction to the full range and all too brief career of this amazing musician.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
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