Chris Smither takes ‘Lucky’ on the road
Country-blues and folk singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Smither first made a splash in the 1960s and early ’70s. He remains a songwriting and performing force whose fans include Dave Alvin, Loudon Wainwright III and Bonnie Raitt, who was the first to cover Smither’s “Love You Like a Man,” albeit as “Love Me Like a Man.”
Smither released “Call Me Lucky,” his 18th album, last year and is ton tour now, with shows coming up in California, New England, Denmark and Ohio.
“One-third John Hurt, one-third Lightnin’ Hopkins and one-third me” is how Smither has described is his guitar playing.
Raised in New Orleans, he relocated to Boston in the 1960s during the folk revival. While his music draws on several American styles, New Orleans left its indelible stamp.
“As far as the musical influences of the town, I didn’t know anything else,” Smither recalled to a JazzFest audience a few years ago. “It’s like asking a fish what water’s like. I didn’t understand what sort of things from New Orleans influenced me until I left.”
Smither joins the warm groove of New Orleans’ acoustic blues with the precise, thoughtful wordsmithing of New England folk. He adds intricate but unhurried fingerstyle guitar and a voice like water-smoothed gravel to create music that is beguiling, witty and wise.
Many classic Smither songs, such as 2003’s “Train Home,” have a catchy outer layer and a carefully crafted core of existential and occasionally playful musings.
Songs on the Mighty Albert/Signature Sounds release “Call Me Lucky,” Smither’s first album in five years and first album of new originals in six, fit this model.
“‘Nobody Home’ is a blues ballad in E about the futility of trying to fill up your life with things that are empty,” he told PopMatters. “Hard to do. Something a little more substantial than Death, Defunct Religion, and Donald Trump are usually required, but that’s what we’ve got to deal with.”
Smither said, “See, I’m not one of these songwriters that just writes all the time. I write a bunch of songs, and I record them, and then I go out and play.”
He makes it sound straightforward. But missing from this list is his skill for interpreting other writers’ songs and his own knack for writing songs other musicians––including Emmylou Harris, Diana Krall and Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen––want to sing.
“Call Me Lucky” combines several strengths in a two-disc release, with Smither covering his own songs from the first disc in reimagined versions on the second. For example, the reflective and acoustic “Everything on Top” of Disc 1 morphs into an electric rocker with grunge-like intensity on Disc 2.
“I had a ball,” Smither said of the recording process.
For more information, visit smither.com and the venues’ websites.
July 26: The Palms Playhouse, Winters, Calif.
Aug. 2: 3S Artspace, Portsmouth, N.H.
Aug. 3: Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield, Maine
Aug. 14: Watermelon Wednesdays at West Whately Chapel, Whately, Mass.