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Showing posts with label Chris Smither. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chris Smither. Show all posts

Monday, June 9, 2014

Chris Smither revisits, re-imagines 24 songs from past on 'Still on the Levee,' out July 22 on Signature Sounds

Three projects mark songwriter’s 50 years in music: Double retrospective CD,
lyric book, and tribute album 
featuring Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Josh Ritter, Dave Alvin,
Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin and others.

Photo by Jeff Fasano
BOSTON, Mass. — Blues-folk icon Chris Smither has long been revered for both his guitar prowess and his way with a lyric, inspiring artists from Bonnie Raitt and John Mayall to Emmylou Harris and Diana Krall. He toured as one of the original monsters of folk with Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1998, and continues to live up to the title with accolades such as Mojo magazine’s five-star review for his 2012 release, Hundred Dollar ValentineSmither still makes music and tours regularly; his April 2014 appearances at the revered New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival earned him a spot on Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Fricke’s Personal Top 10 list of best festival performances.
As Smither marks his 50th year of music-making in 2014, the New Orleans-raised troubadour takes a look back at his career with Still on the Levee, a two-CD retrospective releasing July 22 on Mighty Albert/Signature Sounds. He’s also releasing his full lyric collection as a book titled Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012, and in September, Signature Sounds will salute him with Link of Chain, a tribute album featuring contributions by Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Patty Larkin, Josh Ritter, Peter Case, Tim O’Brien and other friends and admirers from his beloved Boston music scene and beyond.
Reconnecting with his roots, Smither recorded Still on the Levee at New Orleans’ Music Shed with longtime producer David Goodrich. Their aim was to give fresh perspective to a selection of songs from his vast career — from “Devil Got Your Man,” his first composition, to recent originals. Among those who joined him on the project are famed pianist Allen Toussaint, members of the band Morphine and fellow folk-Americana artists Wainwright, Kris Delmhorst and Rusty Belle. It’s also a family affair, with backing-vocal contributions by Smither’s sister, Catherine Norr, and fiddling by his daughter, Robin.
On his 16th album, Smither’s mellow, well-weathered tenor carries a mix of confidence, humility and humor. He’s aware, yet unafraid of his mortality, regarding the years gone by and the ones to come with the grace of a man who knows he can’t change the past or predict the future. His fingers remain as supple as his voice, effortlessly delivering the other half of his signature sound: the back-porch feel of intricate acoustic blues picking accompanied by his own boot-heel-on-wood rhythms.
It’s a sound that easily conjures the ghosts of Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, artists who captivated him early on. Smither, the son of a Tulane University professor, first learned to play his mother’s ukulele, instructed by his Uncle Howard. “He told me if you knew three chords, you could play a lot of the songs you heard on the radio,” Smither recalls. “And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.”
When he heard Hopkins and Hurt, his passion for the blues fully ignited. Even now, he claims his elemental style is “one-third John Hurt, one-third Lightnin’ Hopkins and one-third me.”
That’s the sound Raitt fell in love with when they met in the Cambridge folk scene; Smither headed there in 1965 after abandoning his college anthropology studies at the urging of early mentor Eric von Schmidt. Labeling Smither as “my Eric Clapton,” Raitt turned his “Love You Like A Man” into “Love Me Like A Man” and made it a signature song. Their friendship endures to this day; of course, she lends her version to the forthcoming tribute album.
Diana Krall, Esther Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels and John Mayall are among other artists who have covered his work; Emmylou Harris sang his “Slow Surprise” on The Horse Whisperer film soundtrack. Several of Smither’s songs have made their way onto large and small screens; one even inspired an entire film, The Ride, for which he provided the rest of the soundtrack as well.
Not that it’s always been smooth sailing for Smither. Like most creative souls, from his late friend Townes Van Zandt to inspirations such as Tims Hardin and Buckley, Smither battled his share of demons, from label woes to the liquid kind. After recording a couple of albums in the ’70s, he slowed his touring considerably.
In 1984 he returned to music full time, releasing his album It Ain’t Easy. A consistent string of acclaimed albums has followed, including 1993’s award-winning Happier Blue and 1997’s Small Revelationswhich led to the Monsters of Folk tour.
Raitt joined Smither on 2003’s Train Home, duetting on his cover of Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” Another of the album’s tracks, “Seems So Real,” earned Smither a Song of the Year Award from Folk Alliance International.
“Leave The Light On,” the title track from Smither’s 2006 CD, ends both Still on the Levee discs. A quietly extraordinary piece with accompaniment by Rusty Belle, the first version is a lilting, almost jaunty take. The second corrals the devastating power often hiding just beneath the surface of his songs. Over a slow electric groove, Smither delivers an aching duet with Kate Lorenz; his lines include this stanza:
I may live to be a hundred, I was born in ’44
31 to go, but I ain’t keepin’ score
I've been left for dead before, but I still fight on
Don’t wait up, leave the light on
I’ll be home soon. 
The San Francisco Chronicle recently observed, “Smither continues to give ample proof that he's matured into one of roots music's most passionate, soulful songsmiths and interpreters.”
With Still on the Levee, that proof has become irrefutable.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Killing the Blues - Chris Smither

Chris Smither (born November 11, 1944, Miami, Florida) is an American folk/blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter. His music draws deeply from the blues, American folk music, modern poets and philosophers. Smither’s family lived in Ecuador and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas before settling in New Orleans when Chris was three years old. He grew up in New Orleans, and lived briefly in Paris where he and his twin sister attended French public school. It was in Paris that Smither got his first guitar - one his father brought him from Spain. Shortly after, the family returned to New Orleans where his father taught at Tulane University. In 1960, Smither and two friends entered and won a folk “Battle of the Bands” at the New Orleans Saenger Theatre. Two years later, Smither graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans and went on to attend the University of the Americas in Mexico City planning to study anthropology. It was there that a friend played Smither the Lightnin' Hopkins' record “Blues in My Bottle”. After one year in Mexico, Smither returned to New Orleans where he attended Tulane for one year and discovered Mississippi John Hurt’s music through the Blues at Newport 1963 album on Vanguard Records. Hurt and Hopkins would become cornerstone influences on Smither’s own music. In 1964, Smither flew to New York City two days prior to boarding the SS United States for the five-day transatlantic voyage to Paris for his Junior Year Abroad program. While in New York, he stopped at The Gaslight Cafe to see his hero, Mississippi John Hurt. Once in Paris, Smither often spent time playing his guitar instead of attending classes. Smither returned to New Orleans in 1965. With a few clothes and his guitar, he soon took off for Florida to meet another musical hero, Eric von Schmidt. Smither arrived uninvited at von Schmidt’s door; Von Schmidt welcomed Smither in, and upon listening to him play, advised him to go north to seek a place in the burgeoning folk scene in New York City or Cambridge, Massachusetts. Smither followed this advice, and arrived at Club 47 in Harvard Square several weeks later only to find von Schmidt performing. Von Schmidt invited Smither on stage to play three songs. Smither soon began writing and performing his own songs. He achieved some local notice and by 1967 was featured on the cover of The Broadside of Boston Magazine, and in 1968 music photographer David Gahr’s book, The Face of Folk Music featured Smither’s picture. By 1969, after living in several places around Cambridge, Smither moved to Garfield Street in Cambridge and often visited Dick Waterman's house where Fred McDowell, Son House and other blues legends were known to congregate. It was there that Smither first performed his song "Love You Like A Man" for Waterman's friend, Bonnie Raitt. That summer, he appeared at the Philadelphia Folk Festival for the first time. In 1970, he released his first album I'm A Stranger, Too! on Poppy Records, followed by Don’t It Drag On the next year. He recorded a follow up, Honeysuckle Dog, in 1973 for United Artists Records but Smither was dropped from the label and the album went unreleased until 2004, when it was issued by Tomato Records. Despite no longer having a recording contract Smither continued to tour and became a fixture in New England's folk clubs. In 1972, a longstanding working relationship with Bonnie Raitt took shape as Raitt's cover of "Love Me Like a Man" appeared on her second album Give It Up. Raitt has since made it a signature song of her live performances, and the song has been included on several of her live albums and collections. She has openly expressed admiration for Smither's songwriting and guitar playing, once calling Smither "my Eric Clapton." In 1973, Raitt covered Smither's song "I Feel The Same" on her Takin' My Time album. Following this mixed early success, Smither's recording and songwriting career had a long fallow period while he struggled with personal issues. In his official biography, Smither is quoted: "I was basically drunk for 12 years, and somehow I managed to climb out of it; I don't know why." Smither began to re-emerge as a performer in the late 1970s, and gained a few press notices. In 1979, he was featured in Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney's book, Baby Let Me Follow You Down, and the next year in the UK's Melody Maker magazine. In 1984, Smither's belated third album, It Ain’t Easy was released on Adelphi Records. In 1987, author Linda Barnes’ book “A Trouble of Fools” was published. This is the first in a series of 11 (to-date) novels featuring the private investigator Carlotta Carlysle who is a big Chris Smither fan, and all of which include some reference to Chris Smither. Smither recorded his next album, Another Way To Find You, in front of a live audience at Soundtrack Studio in Boston and in 1991 released it on Flying Fish Records. Later that year he received a Boston Music Award. Two years later, he was invited to compose music for a documentary on Southern folk artists and met Southern folk artist Mose T. In 1993, Smither recorded and released his fifth album, Happier Blue (Flying Fish), which earned Smither a National American Independent Record Distributors NAIRD award. Another two years later, he released Up On The Lowdown (Hightone Records), which was recorded at the Hit Shack in Austin, Texas. This was the first of three records produced by Stephen Bruton. Also that year, the Chris Smither Songbook I was published. In 1996 he began recording live concerts in the US and Ireland for what would later become a live CD. The next year, he released his seventh album, Small Revelations (Hightone), and filmed an instructional guitar video for Happy Traum’s Homespun Tapes in Woodstock, NY. In 1997 Smither's music was used exclusively on the entire score of the short film, The Ride, directed by John Flanders and produced by Flanders's company, RoughPine Productions. Flanders plays a folk-singer in the film who is largely influenced by Smither. The Ride won the Audience Best Film Award at the 2002 Moscow Film Festival. 1998 was a year of small breakthroughs and the start of a fertile songwriting and recording period for Smither. HighTone Records reissued Another Way To Find You and Happier Blue and Jorma Kaukonen invited Smither to teach at his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. In addition, Smither toured with Dave Alvin, Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Tom Russell as Hightone’s "Monsters of Folk" tour, and Emmylou Harris recorded his song "Slow Surprise", for the Horse Whisperer soundtrack CD. In 1999, Smither released Drive You Home Again (HighTone Records), and Keys to Tetuan by Israeli novelist Moshe Benarroch was published with a line from Smither's song I Am The Ride on the opening page. Also in 1999 he went to New Zealand and played at the Sweetwaters Music Festival. 2000 brought the release of another CD, Live As I’ll Ever Be (HighTone Records ), comprising the live recordings made two years earlier. His song "No Love Today" was featured in the Bravo network program Tale Lights. The following year, songwriter Peter Case invited Smither to be part of a Mississippi John Hurt tribute record for which he contributed the opening track, “Frankie and Albert”. In 2003, Train Home was released on Hightone. In 2004, jazz singer Diana Krall covered “Love Me Like A Man” on her CD, The Girl in the Other Room. In September 2006, Smither released Leave the Light On (Signature Sounds Recordings) produced by David 'Goody' Goodrich. His song, "Diplomacy," from the CD was named #42 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of 100 Best Songs of the Year 2006. Smither was also named as 2007's Outstanding Folk Act by the Boston Music Awards. That year he also contributed an essay entitled "Become a Parent" to the book Sixty Things To Do When You Turn Sixty (Ronnie Sellers Productions). And he narrated a two-CD audio book recording of Will Rogers' Greatest Hits (Logofon Recordings). Smither released a 78-minute live concert DVD, One More Night, (Signature Sounds Recordings) in February, 2008. In May 2009, Smither's short story "Leroy Purcell" was published in Amplified (Melville House Publishing), a collection of fiction by fifteen prominent performing songwriters. Smither continues to tour worldwide, performing at clubs, concert halls, and festivals in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia. Smither's thirteenth CD Time Stands Still was released on September 29, 2009 on Signature Sounds Recordings. On February 8, 2011, Chris was profiled in The New York Times' Frequent Flier column, entitled, "The Drawbacks of a Modest Celebrity," in which he recounts anecdotes from his four decades as a traveling musician. American Songwriter writes that Smither's 2012 album "Hundred Dollar Valentine" is his first of all original material in his four decade career If you support live Blues acts, up and coming Blues talents and want to learn more about Blues news and Fathers of the Blues, ”LIKE” ---Bman’s Blues Report--- Facebook Page! I’m looking for great talent and trying to grow the audience for your favorites band!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Signature Sounds artist: Hundred Dollar Valentine - Chris Smither - New Release Review

Sitting here listening to the new recording, Hundred Dollar Valentine, by Chris Smither. This recording, set to be released on June 19, 2012 will be Smither's 12th studio disc. Smither is an excellent finger picking guitar player and songwriter. As most of you know from reading my reviews that I am far more oriented to sonic quality or the sound of someone's voice as well as the instrumentation than I am word oriented. In spite of this I do recognize a well done vocal recording when I hear one. This is one. Smither has a very solid voice and it works very well in the textural weave that he constructs with each song. His use of chord progressions are very melodic and endearing. I am enjoying listening to this cd from a totally different perspective with it being very well constructed and soothing as opposed to gut emotional with searing guitars. Smither is joined by Bill Conway on Drums; Kris Delmhorst on cello; Jimmy Fitting on harmonica; David Goodrich on slide guitar, xylophone and diddley bow; Ian Kennedy on violin; Anita Suhanin on vocals and introducing Robin Smither on violin. The recording projects solitude but also warmth and joy. If it sounds like your bag... I think you'll like it.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Chris Smither's 'Hundred Dollar Valentine' due June 19


First long-player by fingerpicker/singer/songwriter to feature all original songs features session support
from Morphine, Groovasaurus, The Lemonheads players

BOSTON, Mass. — There are such things as the cosmic blues. Janis Joplin once recorded a song by that name — she spelled it kosmik. But Chris Smither lives them.

Smither’s cosmic blues are on full display in Hundred Dollar Valentine, a brilliant amalgam made of equal parts past, present and future. It is music that traces its roots back deep into tradition, anchors its rhythms and textures in today, and reaches forward into the future, asking the Big Questions — why am I here? Is there purpose to all of this or is it just a spinning cascade of random moments?

And he does it all with six strings, an insistent, understated groove and a sly wink — letting you know that we may all enter and leave this world alone, but that don’t mean we can’t have a good time while we’re here.

Hundred Dollar Valentine, Smither’s 12th studio disc, due out June 19, 2012 on Signature Sounds, sports the unmistakable sound he’s made his trademark: fingerpicked acoustic guitar and evocative sonic textures meshed with spare, brilliant songs, delivered in a bone-wise, hard-won voice.

From his early days as the hot New Orleans transplant in the Boston folk scene, through his wilderness years, to his reemergence in the 1990s as one of America’s most distinctive acoustic performers, Chris Smither has always been his own man. He has zigged when others have zagged, eschewing sophisticated studio tricks and staying true to his musical vision, surrounding himself with sympathetic musicians ranging from Bonnie Raitt and the late Stephen Bruton to the next-generation kindred spirits with whom he works today.

It’s easy to see that Smither’s primary touchstone is acoustic blues, once describing his guitar style as “one third Lightnin’ Hopkins, one-third Mississippi John Hurt and one-third me.” While “blues” can evoke images of beer-sodden bar bands cranking out three sets a night wondering why one’s baby left them, Smither reaches back to the primordial longing and infinite loneliness held within the form.

Sure, the album kicks off with the deceptively jaunty title track, whose good-time, ricky-tick shuffle masks the singer’s walking the creaky floorboards of doubt. But the cosmic blues come to the fore on the next cut: “On the Edge” is part conversation, part confessional and part affirmation. This is when you start to realize what extraordinary artistry — what seamless meshing of sound, subject and delivery — is going on here.

Producer David “Goody” Goodrich (credits: Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, Rose Polenzani, The Amity Front), a true musician’s musician, is a natural partner for Smither. “He knows me and my music so well that I trust his ideas implicitly and he keeps coming back with new ones,” says Smither. “This is my fifth project with Goody and each time he raises the bar.”

The recording sessions came together during early 2012 at Signature Studios in Pomfret, Connecticut. Stopping by were the nexus of two of Boston’s most distinctive and influential acts of the recent era — Treat Her Right’s (later Morphine) drummer Billy Conway and Jimmy Fitting on harmonica, and Goodrich’s ex-Groovasaurus bandmates Anita Suhanin (vocals) and violinist Ian Kennedy (Page/Plant, Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Peter Wolf, Susan Tedeschi).

“I've either worked with or been around all the musicians on this record over the years so it was a very comfortable and personable situation,” says Smither. “All these folks are the best at what they do. It makes my job easy.”

While this is Smither’s twelfth studio album, this is his first-ever outing comprised entirely of self-penned songs. He’s always favored the cream of songwriters, such as Dylan, Mark Knopfler and Chuck Berry, mixed with classics from the blues canon, but this time, the credits read all-Smither. “Actually,” he laughs, “there are two covers on the record; but it’s me covering myself.”

“My producer and manager made the argument — a strong one — that songs from my earlier catalog were written by a young man. I'm not a young man any longer but they thought it would be interesting to interpret work from my youth from the perspective of having been on the planet as long as I've been now.”

While it is no surprise that several of his songs have become virtual standards, it is ironic that the assuredly masculine Smither has found favor almost exclusively with female singers: “Love You (Me) Like a Man” has been recorded countless times, with the best known versions by Bonnie Raitt and Diana Krall, “Slow Surprise” by Emmylou Harris and “I Feel the Same” by Raitt, Candi Staton and Esther Phillips among others.

“We chose ‘I Feel the Same’ because of its conciseness. I’ve been told it’s a good example of less is more,” says Smither. Indeed, in three spare verses, “I Feel the Same” is one of the most hauntingly evocative modern blues ever written. “All that nothin’ causes all that pain,” marvels the singer, as he surveys the desolate landscape of heartbreak before him.

Equally unflinching is “Every Mother’s Son.” Tracing a direct line from Cain to Billy the Kid to David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh, “Every Mother’s Son” is an indelible portrait of nihilism:

“I speak to you. I think you'll understand/You know you’ve made your son Joseph a dangerous man/He's gone to town, he's bought himself a gun . . .” “It’s a song I wish would become irrelevant,” says Smither, “But I don’t think it ever will.”

On Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither makes music that simultaneously breaks and fortifies one’s heart. It’s music that acknowledges that even as we are together, we are alone. This is music that stares into that absolute abyss and does not lie. This is music that locks its gaze with life and death and does not look away.

On Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither sings the cosmic blues.