Review : Chris Smither - Hundred Dollar Valentine
PopmattersChris Smither’s first album I’m a Stranger Here Myself dates back to 1970, a year known for the for the Kent State shootings, Detroit muscle cars, and a time when sweet baby James Taylor and the paranoid Black Sabbath could both be on the top ten best selling records of the year charts. It was a strange time, but Chris Smither was a strange dude so he fit right in. The Crescent City blues man let his six string guitar do most of the talking, something he still does today. These are strange times, too, and Smither has not gotten normal. In fact, after more than 40 years of recording, he is doing something different this time. He has written every song on his new release, Hundred Dollar Valentine.
Smither has always been a decent songwriter. You might know Bonnie Raitt’s raucous cover of Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man” or his own interpretation of blues artists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt. Smither’s had always mixed his original material with renditions of past masters. Now he’s doing it by himself.
On guitar, Smither is a master of the folk blues. His guitar rings like a church bell one minute and a then wails like a dying animal the next. The New Orleans native’s secret weapon is how he makes the oddest sounds come off as the soundtrack to our daily lives. Maybe that was the case when he was growing up, because the musical tradition of his hometown seeps into every song. He’s supported by of drummer Billy Conway, cello player Kris Delmhorst, slide guitarist David Goodrich, harmonica player Jimmy Fitting, violinist Ian Kennedy, and additional vocalist Anita Suhanin. These artisans hone their craft by playing with Smither and letting him go on his instrumental journeys.
Then there is the voice. Smither’s vocals recall that of the Black bluesmen he emulates. The vocals are creaky and stuffed; like he’s got cotton in his cheeks and is unable to swallow. Smither uses this to great effect, as if his coarseness makes him more authentic. Smither’s weariness can come off as shtick, but he mostly keeps it under control. On some songs, such as the bouncy “Place in Line”, Smither even lightens up and sings more plainly. Seeing life’s blessings means being clear eyed and clear voiced, the song suggests....full text
BlogcriticsChris Smither’s family moved to New Orleans when he was three years old. If you’re going to spend most of your adult life as a traditional blues artist, channeling the sound and style of such artists as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Son House, then New Orleans is a good place to call home.
His recording career extends back to 1970 when he released his debut album, I’m A Stranger Too. He has just issued his 12th studio album, Hundred Dollar Valentine.
His songs remain firmly rooted in the blues roots of the southern Delta yet they take on a modern character as he fills in the sound. He is, at heart, an acoustic performer who lets his six string do the talking. There are few studio tricks as technology is kept to a minimum. He also has a voice that was made for the blues as it combines power and weariness.
He is supported by an excellent band consisting of drummer Billy Conway, cello player Kris Delmhorst, slide guitarist David Goodrich, harmonica player Jimmy Fitting, violinist Ian Kennedy, and additional vocalist Anita Suhanin.
While Smither’s has been prolific in the studio, this is his first album comprised entirely of original compositions. Previously he had combined material by such artists as Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, and Mark Knopfler, mixed with a selection of traditional blues classics.
The title song runs against the grain of much of the album. It is a perky track that somewhat masks the lyrics of self-doubt. His cosmic blues side comes front and center with “On The Edge,” which is part conversation and part confessional.
“I Feel the Same” proves that sometimes simple is best. The lyrics and music are concise and sparse as he explores the themes of desolation and love. “Every Mother’s Son” is a tale of nihilism as it travels the journey of Cain to Billy the Kid, to David Koresh, to Timothy McVeigh...full text
AmericansongwriterSinger/songwriter Smither has always found his sound’s beating heart in folk blues and his twelfth studio album taps directly into that bloodstream. Oddly, it’s his first comprised of all originals in a four decade career. He does revisit two earlier compositions bringing the wisdom of his advancing years to the regretful “I Feel the Same” and the cautionary “Every Mother’s Son” whose biblical references of offspring gone bad are just as pertinent today.
These acoustic performances are laid back but sizzle with the soul of the blues, especially with Treat Her Right’s master harpist Jim Fitting’s lonesome wail threading its way throughout the predominantly ballad songs. Smither’s deep, mellifluous rustic voice has aged but has never sounded better and longtime associate David Goodrich’s sympathetic production makes it seem these tunes were recorded live on his front porch, even when cello and violin underscore the music’s deep feeling....full text
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