Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Chris Smither

  • Don't It Drag On [Poppy, 1972] A-
  • It Ain't Easy [Adelphi, 1984] B+
  • Another Way to Find You [Flying Fish, 1991] A-
  • Happier Blue [Flying Fish, 1993] **
  • Up on the Lowdown [HighTone, 1995] Neither
  • Small Revelations [HighTone, 1997] ***
  • Drive You Home Again [HighTone, 1999] A-
  • Live as I'll Ever Be [HighTone, 2000] *
  • Train Home [HighTone, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • Leave the Light On [Signature Sounds, 2006] **
  • Time Stands Still [Signature Sounds, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Don't It Drag On [Poppy, 1972]
Smither writes tough-minded yet numinous post-folk songs that do justice to his adventurous taste in other people's--the covers include "Friend of the Devil," "No Expectations," and "Down in the Flood." His Vaughan-Monroe-sings-the-blues baritone is both yearning and astringent, and he sounds like he wishes he were playing bottleneck even when he isn't. A smart record. A-

It Ain't Easy [Adelphi, 1984]
Unless you're a genius on the order of John Hurt, who's remembered in a medley here, it's damn hard to make a consistently interesting album out of your voice and an acoustic guitar. Smither comes within a dud original and a few extraneous covers of bring it off, and they're all on side one. Overdisc the two originals are for real and the way he wraps his voice and fingers around "Maybelline" and "Glory of Love" makes them sound not brand new but old as truth. B+

Another Way to Find You [Flying Fish, 1991]
The second release this recovering alcoholic and stagefright victim has managed since 1972--just him, his blue guitar, and a studio full of fans--redoes most of his two early-'70s albums, both out of print since the early '70s were over, and leaves 1985's It Ain't Easy alone. A Cambridge folkie from New Orleans, Smither is an easy taste to acquire: he strums as if to the second line born, sings in a lazy, roughly luxuriant baritone, writes when he's got something to say, and understands o.p.'s from the inside out. I know Randy Newman's "Have You Seen My Baby" so well I was sorry he'd covered it, only to be struck like never before by its final lines: "She say I'll talk to strangers if I want to/I'm a stranger too." Next day I recalled the title of his first album: I'm a Stranger Too. A-

Happier Blue [Flying Fish, 1993]
expansive new songs, congenial new band, and the stompingest foot this side of John Lee Hooker ("Happier Blue," "Honeysuckle Bone") **

Up on the Lowdown [HighTone, 1995] Neither

Small Revelations [HighTone, 1997]
blues his religion, his therapy, his metier ("Winsome Smile," "Dust My Broom") ***

Drive You Home Again [HighTone, 1999]
Between his somnolent baritone, his blurred melodies, and his big easy guitar, Smither does fade into the background--hear him at a distance and you'd never suspect he was a moral philosopher. But in fact he is that even rarer thing, a moral philosopher with good values, and here his songwriting takes over a career marked by killer covers. From the title manifesto--"These are not petty pleasures/It's a dance that slowly glides/In very complicated measures/That can't be simplified"--to "Tell Me Why [italics mine] You Love Me," he thinks on his butt while keeping the beat with his foot. He's worth attending even if you think blues are history. A-

Live as I'll Ever Be [HighTone, 2000]
No new songs, but the foot-stomping is exceedingly polysyllabic ("The Devil's Real," "Link of Chain"). *

Train Home [HighTone, 2003]
"Let It Go" Choice Cuts

Leave the Light On [Signature Sounds, 2006]
Getting squishy on the emotional, spiky on the economic ("Diplomacy," "Origin of Species"). **

Time Stands Still [Signature Sounds, 2009]
His dad died, the economy crashed, and his easy groove feels more amenable very year ("Surprise, Surprise," "Old Man Down"). **