Leave the Light On
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2006, Volume 13, #11
Written by John Metzger
Over the course of the past four decades, Chris Smither has concocted a remarkably consistent batch of recordings by setting his gentle finger-picking patterns against the warm intimacy of his vocals. Yet, with his 2003 endeavor Train Home, his increasingly focused material effectively carried his music to a new plateau. On his latest effort Leave the Light On, Smither largely follows the same formula that he has utilized throughout his career. By allowing both classic blues and Bob Dylan-penned songs to commingle with his own compositions, he achieves equally stellar results. In this case, he delivers a haunting cover of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Blues in a Bottle, and he boldly re-imagines Dylan’s Visions of Johanna.
Nevertheless, it’s via his own compositions that Smither once again raises the ante. On Leave the Light On’s title track, for example, he borrows the fleet-fingered brightness of Jefferson Airplane’s Third Week in Chelsea and transforms it into his own meditation on the importance of living each day to the fullest; while on the hypnotic Seems So Real, Ollabelle applies its gospel intonations in a manner that is reminiscent of Alan Lomax’s field recordings. Elsewhere, Smither moves beyond introspection to humorously examine evolution and creationism (Origin of the Species) along with America’s skewed view of freedom (Diplomacy), and on the breezy Open Up — as Tim O’Brien’s airy mandolin dances with producer David Goodrich’s spry, electric guitar — he recounts why leading with one’s heart is better than leading with one’s head. It’s unusual for an artist to adhere so closely to a set of musical and lyrical themes for as long as Smither has, but given the sheer perfection of Train Home and Leave the Light On, one gets the sense that he still has a whole lot left to say.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box