Chris Smither's 'Leave the Light On' Draws from Blue and Folk, Poets and Philosophers
12th album due on Signature Sounds September 19
Chris Smither, whose songs have been covered by Diana Krall, Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few, is one of a handful of musicians active today who were on the scene during the folk/blues renaissance of the '60s. Born in Miami and raised in New Orleans -- where he first heard the blues -- before heading on to Boston at the onset of that city's late '60s musical greening, Smither has carved a reputation for transforming blues roots into modern-day songwriting craft. His forthcoming twelfth recording, Leave The Light On, is defined by bright, intricate guitar work, driving foot stomps and assured interplay with a cadre of superb musicians.
Leave The Light On marks the start of a new label relationship for Smither. The album will be released on his own imprint, Mighty Albert, in association with the renowned acoustic and modern folk label Signature Sounds. For the recording, Smither reunited with producer David Goodrich (Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt) and session musicians Mike Piehl (drums), Lou Ulrich (bass) and Anita Suhanin (vocals). They were joined by Grammy Award-winning multi- instrumentalist and vocalist Tim O'Brien (Hot Rize, Kathy Mattea) and rising American roots band Ollabelle, whose own album was released last year on Sony Music.
The title track, Leave the Light On", combines an up-tempo rollick with the gravity of a hymn. In ever-building harmonies with O'Brien, Suhanin and Sean Staples, the topic is clearly mortality yet the tone is not somber but joyful. Contrast that with the heavy blues of Seems So Real" with its spooky backing vocals from Ollabelle. For that track, producer Goodrich summoned up the call-and-response quality of an old Mississippi Fred McDowell recording.
Origin of the Species" is a wickedly pointed swing tune, and probably won't be a hit with the Kansas Board of Education. Peter Case's Cold Trail Blues," rendered here as a duet with Anita Suhanin, espouses the penetrating ache of longing. And Diplomacy" is a full- tilt rocker; a big, loud shot across the bow of a cotillion of war- driven empty suits. The album concludes with a trio of songs that have inhabited Smither's world for upwards of 40 years. First there's Bob Dylan's Visions of Johanna" as a waltz. That is followed by a bone-rattling version of Lightnin' Hopkins' Blues in The Bottle" -- from the first blues album Smither ever owned -- in which he's written new taglines to Lightnin's verses. The album closes with a ghostly version of the standard John Hardy", with Smither's guitar, foot taps and vocals supported one last time by the vocal and instrumental talents of O'Brien, Ollabelle and Staples.
Acoustic Guitar magazine, which recently featured Chris Smither on its cover, cited his gift for addressing the big things -- life, love, loss -- in a penetrating and poetic yet unpretentious way."
That would just about sum up Leave The Light On.