REVIEW: Chris Smither “More From the Levee” is an American Original

Reviews

Chris Smither – More From the Levee

With the unexpected passing of John Prine, people who enjoyed his music would be wise to stock up on & get closer to Chris Smither. He continues in that tradition respectfully.

Through many years of listening Smither always occupied a place on my shelf with the late Mickey Newbury, Townes van Zandt, Guy Clark, Leonard Cohn, Bill Morrissey, Jim Carroll, & Tim Hardin. Many, already gone.

Smither has authenticity, originality & creativeness. Persistent & consistent. It’s not easy to create 10-12 distinctive tracks for an album. Maybe Smither is blessed with a deeper well of ideas. Or maybe he’s just lived those songs & has sharpened his expressiveness accordingly.

More From the Levee (drops Oct 2 – Signature Sounds) continues the 50-year retrospective with Chris’ 18th LP. Ten songs from the abundant material for the double-effort Still On the Levee (2014).

Bluesman, interpreter & storyteller Smither wears many hats. Plays Collings guitars with Elixir strings & what sets him apart or at least in good company is that he’s an American original. Much the same as John Prine who has often been called a national treasure. So, I guess as an American original Chris stands with songwriters of his genre previously mentioned & also including Roger Miller, J.J. Cale, Bob Dylan, & Kris Kristofferson among others.

Smither’s band: Billy Conway (drums/percussion – Morphine/Treat Her Right), Dana Colley (baritone sax), Anita Suhanin (vocals), Jimmy Fitting (harmonica), Goody (piano), & Allen Toussaint (piano on “Let It Go”) – all recorded in New Orleans.

Lyrically, there’s poignancy, edginess, playfulness (“Confirmation” has humor & some Leon Redbone tone. “Let It Go” has Steve Goodman flavor). That’s ambitious. Musically, the intricacies are there with melodic lines, clever injections of instrumentation. Chris’ voice – with its whiskey-savored tonality can be raw, sincere, & always competent. Somewhat at times with a Ramblin’ Jack Elliott persona — without being too folky.

While not as deep & raspy as Tom Waits, not as bohemian or as Brecht-Weil-like he does skim the style. On “Old Man Down,” it’s mindful of the late blues-great John Campbell as well. Deeply-dark & lyrical in his blues. Smither would’ve liked Campbell.

Among the polished & well-scuffed songs is “Lonely Time,” the Waits-like “Drive You Home Again,” & “I Am the Ride.” Impressive. The Newbury-like “What I Do,” is cool. “Hey, Hey, Hey,” is splendid with its Cale-like parallels.

 

Chris is as an original – he doesn’t imitate. The comparisons are for readers who can’t imagine what I’m describing without a frame of reference. What’s also impressive: his 10-songs are quality-heavy “left-overs.” Who can actually do that of consequence? A Dylan? Waits? Springsteen? Most artists produce only what is necessary for an LP & there is no “in the vault.”

Highly recommended – as all Smither work.

The 41-minute CD: Produced by David Goodrich. Available at Bandcamp & https://smither.com/

Leave a Reply!