Friday, June 23, 2006

Chris Smither

I'm a longtime fan of folk/blues master Chris Smither, and his latest album Leave the Light On offers ample evidence of why he's always worth a listen. He's a phenomenal acoustic guitar picker, and this time he enlists the help of another phenomenal picker, Tim O'Brien, who plays mandolin and sings harmony vocals. He has a raspy, soulful voice. He writes first-rate melodies. And his songs are never less than soul baring, compassionate, and witty. This time there's a real spiritual dimension to these songs. I have no idea what he believes, but he sure understands the concept of digging empty wells ("My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." -- Jeremiah 2:13):

Up and down, never mind the level
If down were up you couldn't get much higher
Diggin' deep, workin' with a shovel
Tryin' to set your soul on fire
Tryin' to set your soul on fire

There are nine superb originals, and great covers of Peter Case's "Cold Trail Blues" and Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna." And there is, at long last, Hallelujah, a protest song for these times that isn't ham-fisted and sputtering with inarticulate bile, that is as witty as it is acerbic:

It's gettin' edgy, time to find a war
There must be somethin' worth fightin' for
Peace is so peaceful, it ain't a way to survive
When nobody hates you, nobody knows you're alive

We got the guns, we got the oilmen too
They're like a choir, they wanna sing for you
Wham! Bam! Slip slidin' away
The less you got, the more you gonna pay

You want it, you'll get it
We got what you need
You ain't got to sweat it
We gonna make you bleed

We got some freedom, we got the iPod store
We got the savior, you couldn't ask for more
Take it or leave it, it's the deal of the day
And if you leave it, you get it anyway

You want it, you'll get it
We got what you need
You ain't got to sweat it
We gonna make you bleed

Get your coat on, you ain't supposed to laugh
This ain't a joke it's an epitaph
It's the rise and the fall, that's the name of the game
It's the land of the free, the blind leadin' the lame
It's the land of the free, the blind leadin' the lame
-- Chris Smither, "Diplomacy"

2 comments:

jackscrow said...

I've seen Chris live, usually at Jorma's Fur-Peace Ranch, where he teaches, at least twice a year for some time now.

Before that I ran into him at folk festivals all over the country for years after being introduced to him by outlaw folk legend Jaimie Brockett.

He keeps getting better with age, but I would recommend "Small Revelations" to anyone who wants to start on his discography. It is in my personal top ten.

Go see him LIVE!

Gar said...

Love the lyrics for that Smither tune. Just recently heard him and wanted to buy something. Is this on a records that is already out or soon to be released? Guessing you have a review for it coming up in Paste....