First Appeared at The Music Box, September 2003, Volume 10, #9
Written by John Metzger
The folk-blues revival of the 1960s not only resurrected the career of Mississippi John Hurt, but it also fueled the development of up and coming songwriters such as Chris Smither. Itís only fitting, then, that on his latest outing Train Home, Smither pays tribute to his predecessor by covering Candy Man, one of Hurtís most famous songs. In reality, the two performances arenít all that different from one another, and itís simple to pick out Hurtís influence, which is scattered throughout the other 10 tracks on the album. Still, Smither manages to make the song and the style his own, paying homage without simply replicating his biggest influence.
For decades, Smither toiled away on the coffeehouse and club circuit, but it wasnít until the í90s when his career finally took off ó not coincidentally after he defeated a lengthy, debilitating bout with alcoholism. Though Train Home is only the eleventh outing of his career, it happens to be his seventh album in the past 12 years, and quite frankly, Smither has never sounded better. Heís an astoundingly good guitarist, and his gentle finger-picking technique draws as much from Hurt as does that of Jorma Kaukonen. Much like both his predecessor and his peer, Smither makes the intricate patterns sound simple, spraying notes in a rhythmic dance that drives his songs with graceful, flowing ease. Long-time friend and supporter Bonnie Raitt lends her voice to a powerful rendition of Bob Dylanís Desolation Row while soft touches of piano, percussion, mandolin, reed organ, and guitar drift through many of the tracks. Itís all largely a decorative show, however, on an album thatís entirely about a songwriter giving birth to his songs.
Whether singing about love (Never Needed It More), death (Train Home), or material loss (Let It Go); whether covering Bob Dylan (Desolation Row) or Buffalo Springfield (Kind Woman), Smither tags each tune with an emotional weightiness that matches earthly realism with pristine melodies, capturing the beauty within an oft-dark world in ways that fully resonate. At first glance, that seems like something every songwriter and performer should be striving to accomplish, and though they indeed may, few are able to truly stir the soul half as well as Smither does on Train Home.
Train Home is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box