To mark his 50th anniversary as a working musician Chris Smither, the now 69-year-old New Orleans blues folk singer-songwriter and acclaimed guitarist (“one-third John Hurt, one-third Lightnin’ Hopkins and one-third me”), has revisited two dozen of his songs for a double CD titled Still On The Levee that brings fresh perspectives (Winsome Smile, for example, now a growly rocker) as well as a list of guest artists that include legendary pianist Allen Toussaint (bringing New Orleans soul keyboard thrills to Train Home), Loudon Wainwright III (who duets on the handclapping goodtime What They Say), assorted Morphine members and Kris Delmhorst.
He gets the ball rolling with a warm and relaxed take on the first song he ever wrote, Devil Got Your Man, (off 1970’s I’m A Stranger Too) shifting to the JJ Cale-like groove of Don’t It Drag On before the first real blues number, No More Cane On The Brazos. If none of these ring any bells, you may be more familiar with Love You Like A Man, although the goodtime bluesy stomp treatment here is a decidedly different reading to the smouldering one Bonnie Raitt gave the song as Love Me Like A Man.
Given he’s not exactly a household name, as well as welcome retrospective for fans it also serves as a useful primer for newcomers, the songs ranging from the pure blues of Another Way To Find You, the stomp Call Time and the drawled slurr of Shillin’ For The Blues to more country tracks like Lonesome Georgia Brown (with its lyric reference to God Bless The Child and echoes of Mickey Newbury) and the folk-roots flavours of Song For Susan (featuring Massachusetts junk folk trio Rusty Belle), Small Revelations and Slow Surprise, a song Emmy Harris covered for The Horse Whisperer soundtrack.
Both discs end with new version of Leave The Light On, the title track of his 2006 album, both featuring Rusty Belle, the first a jaunty jog with adopted young daughter Robin on fiddle and the second a slow, narcotic take on which Smither’s molasses tenor growl duets with RB singer Kate Lorenz.
To complement these loving reworks, the package comes in an impressive A5 fold out card case that also includes a lyric booklet and, if you want to delve further, there’s also a full book’s worth being published as Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012 while a tribute album, Link Of Chain, is also due for release with contributions by such names as Raitt, Wainwright, Peter Case and Josh Ritter.
Review by: Mike Davies
Chris Smither and Rusty Belle perform Link of Chain, on the new album “Still On The Levee,” live at the Parlor Room.
Out Now on Signature Sounds
Photo Credit: Jeff Fasano