on 9 July 2012
This is Chris Smither's 12th studio recording and it continues with the finger-picked, foot-tapped, fulsomely-sung blues/folk brilliance for which he is rightly revered, at least by a dedicated informed if not more widely.
The title track and opener lays down the blues roots in wonderfully familiar fashion, and the accompanying vocal of Anita Suhanin provides a pleasing foil to Smither's grittier tones. Second track 'On The Edge' provides the folk nuance that has informed his music for 40+ years, especially reminiscent of the songs he was writing on his first two brilliant albums 'I'm A Stranger Too' and 'Don't It Drag On', references I will return to. There is some pretty violin background provided by Ian Kennedy on this track.
Third 'What It Might Have Been' is a sweet, slow blues with Smither in empathetic voice, and Jimmy Fitting playing harmonica. The upbeat Country blues of fourth track 'What They Say' combines more of Smither's fine songwriting talent [the album is entirely self-penned] with Suhanin, Kennedy and Fitting all providing their continued superb support.
Fifth 'All We Need To Know' is another slow and brooding song, beautiful poetic lyrics and virtuoso guitar picking adding to its gravitas - thundering drums and sustained cymbal strains playing their parts. It's a perfectly balanced album as sixth track 'Make Room For Me' brings in its bright blues stomp. Seventh 'I Feel The Same' is a welcome reprise for one of two superb songs from Smither's 1972 album 'Don't It Drag On', the additional harmonica and other band elements giving its differing sound; also in '72, Smither's vocal had a light warble whereas now it is much deeper and, as they say, lived-in. The other track reprised from this early album is tenth 'Every Mother's Son' which tells the gorgeous though haunting story of a son who buys a gun and goes on a shooting spree. Again, harmonica and Suhanin harmony provides a nuance to compare with the original.
The album ends on a raw, demo-like and foot-tapped song 'Rosalie' that at the end has Smither recalling he wrote it `35 or 40 years ago', and the chair creaks as he adds `I haven't sung that on stage in years...years and years' and it recalls the brilliance of seeing Smither play live where all his simple excellence in and enthusiasm for performing is so evident. This album is as good as it gets from an artist who has always been outstanding.
Following on from his last record the EP 'What I learned in school' this new CD also has Chris playing with a band but don't worry the backing is very sympathetic and Chris's trademark bitter-sweet sound is unchanged. The musicians include Anita Suhanin on backup vocals, drummer Billy Conway, violinist Ian Kennedy and my favourite the excellent harmonica player Jimmy Fitting, who goes from deep distorted Chicago tones, via acoustic country harp to jazzy chromatic.
The songs are all Smither originals both new ones and old favourites like "I Feel the Same" (as covered by Bonnie Raitt) and "Every Mother's Son" and I think that the augmented lineup really adds to Chris's sound. Producer David "Goody" Goodrich keeps the sound clear and basic to emphasie the songs and the playing. I would have liked Chris to have used this opportunity with the band to do something different and vary his sound as he did on 'What I learned in school'. However, overall I did enjoy the record and I'd probably pick "Hundred Dollar Valentine" and "Rosalie" (as Chris says "written 35-40 years ago") as my favourite tracks but it is a very consistent set of songs.