Following on from Chris Smither’s recent 50th anniversary album of reworked songs from his back catalogue, now comes Link of Chain, a salute from many of his friends and admirers. Several of the artists featured here have covered his material in the past, perhaps most notably Bonnie Raitt whose 1972 version of Love You Like A Man, recast as Love Me Like A Man, became one of her signature songs. It reappears here as an unreleased live recording from October 2012, a fine bluesy delivery featuring just Raitt on vocals and guitar and James Hutchinson on bass.
One track has previously appeared on disc, Peter Mulvey’s hot club swing take on Time To Spend which he included on The Good Stuff, but otherwise everything is unique to this collection, kicking off with Dave Alvin’s smoky drawled reading of the title song before slipping into Place In Line by Loudon Wainwright III with David Goodrich tinkling the saloon bar piano keys.
Mary Gauthier provides a slow burn bluesy prowl through I Feel The Same, a mood mirrored by Eilen Jewell on Can’t Shake These Blues and, with an added country streak, Patty Larkin’s breathy album closer version of Train Home on which she not only sings but also plays acoustic, electric and national steel guitars, bass and mandolin.
Smither’s folksier side is ably represented too, firstly by Josh Ritter’s acoustic strummed Rosalie and then bolstered by a terrific fingerpicked Leave The Light On by Jorma Kaukonen, Aoife O’Donovan’s Celtic misted Small Revelations with Stephanie Coleman on fiddle, a close harmony duet between Mark Erelli and Jeffrey Foucault on the Townes Van Zandt-influenced Song For Susan and a solo Peter Case recording of Caveman.
Mulvey’s jazzy contribution has its companion pieces too, Jim Hoke adding clarinet swing to Origin Of Species, featuring a yodeling turn and some scat singing from bluegrass banjo star Tim O’Brien, and Paul Cebar heading up No Love Today which, with its fat baritone sax, Reggie Bordeaux’s rumbling drums and shrug ‘n’ jive rhythm sounds like a King Louis outtake from The Jungle Book.
These sort of affairs can often be a bit of a hit and miss affair, but, between the quality of the source material and the calibre of the interpreters, there’s no weak link in this chain.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now on Signature Sounds