Still On The Levee: A 50th Year Retrospective

Chris Smither

Mighty Albert/Signature Sounds, 2014

REVIEW BY: David Bowling

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/19/2014

Chris Smither is a bluesman, philosopher, poet and folksinger who was a part of the burgeoning folk revival movement of the mid-1960s. His career has now reached the 50-year mark and to celebrate, he has revisited and reimagined 25 of his best-known and favorite songs. The result is the two-disc release titled nbtc__dv_250 Still On The Levee: A 50th Year Retrospective. Also included is a booklet, which contains a short biography and the lyrics to the 25 songs.

Smither is a throwback to another era as his style models bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins. On the other hand, his lyrics are eternal, owing to his ability to put stories, philosophy, and feelings into words. While not a household name, he has managed to carve out a career based on brilliant lyrics that touch the soul.

The concept of the album is to re-record a number of Smither’s songs. Whether you are familiar with the original recordings or not, it is a nice journey through the last 50 years of not only his career but of blues/folk music. His tenor voice has gained a gentle patina with the passage of time, which gives a plaintive quality to much of his material.

The star of the collection is “Leave The Light On,” the song that closes both discs. The first take is upbeat, while the second slows the tempo as Smither delivers a poignant duet with Kate Lorenz. It is a prime example of how his songs can be transformed.

From his first composition “Devil Get Your Man,” the songs here meander: they are philosophical, thoughtful, painful, psychological, and altogether just a plain good story. “Love You Like A Man,” “Can’t Take These Blues,” “Small Revelations,” “Train Home,” “Song For Susan,” and more take the listener on a reflective journey through his life and music.

Now in his mid seventies, Chris Smither has released an album of soulful songs cloaked in a blues style that has its roots in the Southern Delta. It is music worth exploring.

Rating: B+

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