This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 5/03
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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It's either bluesy folk or folky blues. Either way, Chris Smither is quite a revelation, especially for someone, such as myself, who has never found himself in a blues fervor.
The clincher and difference-maker for me is Smither's lyrics. "Train Home," the opening and title cut, is a philosophical ramble on life and death:
"...I don't think I see much of anything for meOr the opening verse of "Never Needed It More," his riff on the quixotic appearance of human connection:
in visions of the past or the ever-after
Now is what can be, all the rest is wait and see,
those prophets never hear that cosmic laughter..."
"...If love is the meal for the hunger you feel, call for the waiterBut Smither can also get down and low, with a wink in his voice, as in Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man," a cut thematically similar to that old chestnut "60 Minute Man." This one has absolutely nothing to do with the Sammy Davis Jr. hit.
We're all gonna feed on whatever we need sooner or later
I just stay out of my way, I call for the check when I'm ready to pay
The bill's for the faith or the will, whichever is greater..."
And any release such as this requires the inclusion of some desperate love. "Lola" does the trick here. Smither sings:
"...I know she ain't a good 'un, whatcha bet she wouldn'He also offers versions of Dave Carter's "Crocodile Man" and Bob Dylan's Desolation Row."
lose much sleep if I should die today
She says love ain't cheap, but the pain is free and I say,
"But that sounds good to me!..."
Smither speaks the verses but sings the choruses of "Crocodile Man." It is a far different version than the Carter/Tracy Grammer original, but Smither's voice is right at home here and makes it seem he is somehow the living figure in the song.
His world-weary presentation of "Desolation Row" is excellent. A seven minute and forty-seven second cut, this is one of Dylan's most lyrically obtuse songs. The inclusion of horns that add an even bleaker wistfulness to the lyrics is a brilliant touch.
Another worthwhile tune is the playful "Let It Go," an enjoyable spoken-sung ramble about the theft of an automobile.
This is a skillful songwriter, one who can effortlessly but meaningfully and cleverly rhyme---an ability too often overlooked throughout the entire music world of today. He can musically and lyrically transport the listener to the landscape of the song--another all-too-often missing talent. My thanks for the introduction.
Smither, on guitar, vocals and feet, is backed by David "Goody" Goodrich on acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar, slide guitar, electric guitar, bass, mandolin, piano, pinewood diddley bo, banjo and reed organ; Richard Downs on horns; Mike Piehl on drums and cymbal rolls; Anita Suhanin on vocals and background vocals; Lou Ulrich on bass and Bonnie Raitt on background vocals and slide guitar.
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