Time Stands Still
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2009, Volume 16, #11
Written by John Metzger
Wed November 11, 2009, 06:30 AM CST
When he recorded his debut Iím a Stranger Too, Chris Smither didnít hold anything back. Instead, he revealed everything there is to know about how he approaches his craft. In fact, over the course of 11 studio albums, which have been spread across 39 years, he hasnít altered his game plan one bit. Surprisingly, though, Smither has managed to create a body of work that never for a minute has sounded formulaic. After making only minor adjustments and refinements, his latest endeavor Time Stands Still may be his most fully realized outing to date.
It is strange how some folk and blues artists get thrust into the limelight while others toil away in relative obscurity, hardly making a dent in any market outside their chosen niche. Maybe itís because those who enjoy the greatest commercial success are willing to bulk up their backing bands and smooth out the rough edges in order to reach the masses. Without a doubt, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, and Bruce Springsteen have each spent time chasing the charts, albeit without sending their artistic credibility into free-fall. While they have stumbled on occasion, they always seem to return to their roots, by adding low-key outings to their canons or, at the very least, by embracing simpler arrangements.
By contrast, Smither has never wavered from deploying an acoustic framework. There is beauty to be found in preserving the purity of a songís structure, and to him, this is more important than adding layers of instrumentation in order to create something big, brash, and unavoidably ear-catching. Smitherís preference, then, is to adorn his melodies and lyrics with textural subtleties that draw listeners into his music rather than to foist it upon them. Whether he is recording with a small supporting cast or performing alone on stage, he builds his albums around the gentle, finger-picked patterns that flow from his guitar, and the results typically are quite stunning.
Throughout Time Stands Still, Smither adheres quite closely to his well-established blueprint. Forsaking the special guests that dotted the landscape of his other recent efforts ó Train Home and Leave the Light On ó Smither relies only minimally upon his backing band ó which consists solely of guitarist David Goodrich and percussionist Zak Trojano. On occasion, their contributions bubble to the surface. Not only do they add heft to the taut, Pearl Jam-esque groove of I Told You So, but they also help Smither transform the lustful edginess of Donít Call Me Stranger into the title trackís tender pledge of devotion. For the most part, however, Smither asks his accomplices simply to trace the arcs of his songs with soft, supple gestures. With the spotlight trained on him, Smither laces his wise insights on life, love, and politics with an air of existential pondering that is well suited to his quiet ruminations.
Tunes by Dylan (It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry) and Knopfler (Madame Genevaís) sit comfortably alongside Smitherís own material. Yet, by tucking them into the latter half of Time Stands Still, he is able to use them not to establish the tenor of the collection, but rather to provide perspective as well as a few points of reference. Smither sounds, at times, like both of these artists. Yet, when he delivers their songs, he also succeeds in putting his own distinctive spin upon them. He may follow an approach that is laid-back and understated, but as its tracks pile on top of each other, Time Stands Still builds a head of emotional steam from its insistent, shuffling grooves and intimate atmospherics. This not only gives the collection its resonance, but it also ultimately allows Time Stands Still to rank among the finest offerings that he or any of his peers have produced.
Of Further Interest...
Time Stands Still 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 © 2009 The Music Box