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January 15, 2018

Singer-songwriter-guitarist went to Austin to record two-CD set with longtime producer David Goodrich and backing from Billy Conway (Morphine) and Matt Lorenz (The Suitcase Junket).
NPR World Café remiered a video:

BOSTON, Mass . — “Some might call me that,” muses Chris Smither, or one might simply say that the world is lucky because Smither’s songwriting and touring can stand the test of time. A songwriter, guitarist, bluesman, interpreter and performer for more than 50 years, Chris Smither has proven himself an American original.

Recorded at the gorgeous Blue Rock Studio in Texas’ hill country, just outside Austin in Wimberley, Smither’s 18th album, titled Call Me Lucky, due out March 2, 2018 on Signature Sounds/Mighty Albert, distributed by Redeye, is the artist’s first studio recording of brand new originals in six years. Once again Smither turned to his long-time producer and multi-instrumentalist David Goodrich, drummer Billy Conway (Morphine), Matt Lorenz (a.k.a. The Suitcase Junket), and engineer Keith Gary. The four musicians went into the session to record ten songs. What they ended up with is a double record: Disc 1 features the eight originals and two covers they started with; Disc 2 catapults the very same songs — with what life-long fans may know as the Smither sound — into another dimension, featuring very different arrangements.

Producer Goodrich recalls, “I’ve worked with Chris on a number of records over the past several years and I had a special feeling about this one going in. I didn’t send out any roughs or lyrics to the guys ahead of time. As I said, I had a feeling. We walked in to the studio on June 23 and it became evident these songs were the foundation of something bigger.”

Smither shook things up. During the making of the record each musician at some point wore a different hat. The engineer played piano. The drummer played guitar. Chris took a Chuck Berry standard and turned it on its head and it came out in a minor key. They added in another surprise cover (you’ll just have to listen to find out what it is). And to top it off, yes, Chris went electric.

At the core of Call Me Lucky are the ten songs, which offer commentary on the human condition that only Chris Smither can put pen to. These songs pull from deep in the soul, making for a kind of reflection, an introspection, that usually comes from someone only when facing a higher power or natural disaster. From the opening track of “Blame’s on Me” to “Lower the Humble,” Smither raises his own bar when it comes to songwriting. The rollicking “Nobody Home” offers a sharp observation of the 21st century, while “Change Your Mind” reaches back to Smither’s blues and folk roots as a young man.

As most Smither aficionados know, he recognizes great songs by other writers and always includes a couple of songs by other musicians. His deftness as an interpreter is often overlooked and yet his ability to choose a song and then make it his own is almost as important as his signature guitar styling and his command of the songwriting craft. Listen, you’ll hear for yourself. His aforementioned rendering of “Maybellene” is menacing.
Goodrich goes on to say, “There have been some out there — Bonnie Raitt, The Dixie Chicks, Emmylou Harris, John Mayall, Diana Krall, among others — who not only know the strength of a Smither song, they get how coverable he is. Chris himself is the ultimate interpreter of others’ songs, and being the songwriter he is, we thought, ‘Let’s have Smither cover Smither. So one afternoon we let loose and had some fun. Chris dug in and gave these songs new identities. An interpretation. That’s how we ended up with the second disc.”

Disc 2 of Call Me Lucky transcends the core record and takes the listener on an unexpected sonic journey. And mixing it all up is that surprise cover. And that is Call Me Lucky. Fans from around the world continue to fill concert venue after concert venue eager for the galvanizing ride of a Chris Smither concert. Reviewers including those from The Associated Press, NPR, Mojo, and The New York Times agree that Smither remains a significant songwriter and an electrifying guitarist — an American original — as he draws deeply from folk and blues, modern poets and philosophers. And with Call Me Lucky he keeps doing just that.
For some, a record like Smither’s last release, the double-CD 50-year career retrospective Still on the Levee would have been a monumental way to wrap up a long and successful career, to hang it up and go out on a high note. Not Chris Smither. As he says, “This is what I do.” Eighteen records in, 83 songs over a lifetime, so far.

Call Me Lucky is proof Chris Smither has more to offer. And aren’t we lucky.

Call Me Lucky release tour dates:

Fri.-Sat., Jan. 12-13 SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY Caffe Lena Fri., Feb. 16 BETHLEHEM, PA Godfrey Daniels Sat., Feb. 17 BEACON, NY Towne Crier Cafe Wed., Feb. 28 LAKESIDE, CA Dark Thirty* Thurs., March 1 CARLSBAD, CA Museum of Making Music* Fri. & Sun., March 2 & 4 SANTA MONICA, CA McCabe’s* Sat., March 3 SANTA BARBARA, CA Sings Like Hell at Lobero Theatre* Wed., March 7 PORTLAND, OR Alberta Rose Theatre* Thurs., March 8 EUGENE, OR Shedd Institute* Fri., March 9 BAINBRIDGE WA The Treehouse Café* Sat., March 10 VANCOUVER, BC St. James Hall* Sun., March 11 SEATTLE, WA Tractor Tavern* Wed., March 14 SANTA CRUZ, CA Kuumbwa Jazz Center* Thurs., March 15 AUBURN, CA Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center* Fri., March 16 BERKELEY, CA Freight & Salvage* Sat., March 17 SEBASTOPOL, CA Sebastopol Community Center* Fri., March 30 HOUSTON, TX The Mucky Duck Sat., March 31 AUSTIN, TX Cactus Cafe Wed., April 4 NEW YORK, NY City Winery NYC* Fri., April 6 FALL RIVER, MA Narrows Center for Arts* Sat., April 7 TURNERS FALLS, MA Shea Theater* Sun., April 8 CAMBRIDGE, MA The Sinclair* Fri., April 13 AUBURN, NY Auburn Public Theater Sat., April 14 PHILADELPHIA, PA World Cafe Live Sun., April 15 BALTIMORE, MD Creative Alliance at Patterson Fri., April 27 NASHVILLE, TN Bluebird Cafe Sat., April 28 BATON ROUGE, LA Red Dragon Listening Room Sun., April 29 NEW ORLEANS, LA Chickie Wah Wah Thurs., May 10 EVANSTON, IL Evanston SPACE Fri., May 11 MINNEAPOLIS, MN Cedar Cultural Center Sat., May 12 ANN ARBOR, MI The Ark Sun., May 13 CLEVELAND, OH Beachland Ballroom Tues., May 15 PITTSBURGH, PA Club Cafe Wed., May 16 BUFFALO, NY 9th Ward @ Babeville Thurs., May 17 ROCHESTER, NY Penthouse at One East Ave Fri., July 20 TELLURIDE, CO Telluride Americana Music Festival *Band dates

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June 1, 2014


Three projects mark songwriter’s 50 years in music: Double retrospective CD, lyric book,

and tribute album featuring Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Josh Ritter, Dave Alvin, Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin and others.

BOSTON, Mass. — Blues-folk icon Chris Smither has long been revered for both his guitar prowess and his way with a lyric, inspiring artists from Bonnie Raitt and John Mayall to Emmylou Harris and Diana Krall. He toured as one of the original monsters of folk with Dave Alvin, Tom Russell and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1998, and continues to live up to the title with accolades such as Mojo magazine’s five-star review for his 2012 release, Hundred Dollar Valentine. Smither still makes music and tours regularly; his April 2014 appearances at the revered New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival earned him a spot on Rolling Stone Senior Editor David Fricke’s Personal Top 10 list of best festival performances.

As Smither marks his 50th year of music-making in 2014, the New Orleans-raised troubadour takes a look back at his career with Still on the Levee, a two-CD retrospective releasing July 22 on Mighty Albert/Signature Sounds. He’s also releasing his full lyric collection as a book titled Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012, and in September, Signature Sounds will salute him with Link of Chain, a tribute album featuring contributions by Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Patty Larkin, Josh Ritter, Peter Case, Tim O’Brien and other friends and admirers from his beloved Boston music scene and beyond.

Reconnecting with his roots, Smither recorded Still on the Levee at New Orleans’ Music Shed with longtime producer David Goodrich. Their aim was to give fresh perspective to a selection of songs from his vast career — from “Devil Got Your Man,” his first composition, to recent originals. Among those who joined him on the project are famed pianist Allen Toussaint, members of the band Morphine and fellow folk-Americana artists Wainwright, Kris Delmhorst and Rusty Belle. It’s also a family affair, with backing-vocal contributions by Smither’s sister, Catherine Norr, and fiddling by his daughter, Robin.

On his 16th album, Smither’s mellow, well-weathered tenor carries a mix of confidence, humility and humor. He’s aware, yet unafraid of his mortality, regarding the years gone by and the ones to come with the grace of a man who knows he can’t change the past or predict the future. His fingers remain as supple as his voice, effortlessly delivering the other half of his signature sound: the back-porch feel of intricate acoustic blues picking accompanied by his own boot-heel-on-wood rhythms.

It’s a sound that easily conjures the ghosts of Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, artists who captivated him early on. Smither, the son of a Tulane University professor, first learned to play his mother’s ukulele, instructed by his Uncle Howard. “He told me if you knew three chords, you could play a lot of the songs you heard on the radio,” Smither recalls. “And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.”

When he heard Hopkins and Hurt, his passion for the blues fully ignited. Even now, he claims his elemental style is “one-third John Hurt, one-third Lightnin’ Hopkins and one-third me.”

That’s the sound Raitt fell in love with when they met in the Cambridge folk scene; Smither headed there in 1965 after abandoning his college anthropology studies at the urging of early mentor Eric von Schmidt. Labeling Smither as “my Eric Clapton,” Raitt turned his “Love You Like A Man” into “Love Me Like A Man” and made it a signature song. Their friendship endures to this day; of course, she lends her version to the forthcoming tribute album.

Diana Krall, Esther Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels and John Mayall are among other artists who have covered his work; Emmylou Harris sang his “Slow Surprise” on The Horse Whisperer film soundtrack. Several of Smither’s songs have made their way onto large and small screens; one even inspired an entire film, The Ride, for which he provided the rest of the soundtrack as well.

Not that it’s always been smooth sailing for Smither. Like most creative souls, from his late friend Townes Van Zandt to inspirations such as Tims Hardin and Buckley, Smither battled his share of demons, from label woes to the liquid kind. After recording a couple of albums in the ’70s, he slowed his touring considerably.

In 1984 he returned to music full time, releasing his album It Ain’t Easy. A consistent string of acclaimed albums has followed, including 1993’s award-winning Happier Blue and 1997’s Small Revelations, which led to the Monsters of Folk tour.

Raitt joined Smither on 2003’s Train Home, duetting on his cover of Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” Another of the album’s tracks, “Seems So Real,” earned Smither a Song of the Year Award from Folk Alliance International.

“Leave The Light On,” the title track from Smither’s 2006 CD, ends both Still on the Levee discs. A quietly extraordinary piece with accompaniment by Rusty Belle, the first version is a lilting, almost jaunty take. The second corrals the devastating power often hiding just beneath the surface of his songs. Over a slow electric groove, Smither delivers an aching duet with Kate Lorenz; his lines include this stanza:

I may live to be a hundred, I was born in ’44
31 to go, but I ain’t keepin’ score
I've been left for dead before, but I still fight on
Don’t wait up, leave the light on
I’ll be home soon.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently observed, “Smither continues to give ample proof that he's matured into one of roots music's most passionate, soulful songsmiths and interpreters.”

With Still on the Levee, that proof has become irrefutable.




April 3rd, 2012


First long-player by fingerpicker/singer/songwriter to feature all original songs features session support from Morphine, Groovasaurus, The Lemonheads players

BOSTON, Mass. — There are such things as the cosmic blues. Janis Joplin once recorded a song by that name — she spelled it kosmik. But Chris Smither lives them.

Smither’s cosmic blues are on full display in Hundred Dollar Valentine, a brilliant amalgam made of equal parts past, present and future. It is music that traces its roots back deep into tradition, anchors its rhythms and textures in today, and reaches forward into the future, asking the Big Questions — why am I here? Is there purpose to all of this or is it just a spinning cascade of random moments?

And he does it all with six strings, an insistent, understated groove and a sly wink — letting you know that we may all enter and leave this world alone, but that don’t mean we can’t have a good time while we’re here.

Hundred Dollar Valentine, Smither’s 12th studio disc, due out June 19, 2012 on Signature Sounds, sports the unmistakable sound he’s made his trademark: fingerpicked acoustic guitar and evocative sonic textures meshed with spare, brilliant songs, delivered in a bone-wise, hard-won voice.

>From his early days as the hot New Orleans transplant in the Boston folk scene, through his wilderness years, to his reemergence in the 1990s as one of America’s most distinctive acoustic performers, Chris Smither has always been his own man. He has zigged when others have zagged, eschewing sophisticated studio tricks and staying true to his musical vision, surrounding himself with sympathetic musicians ranging from Bonnie Raitt and the late Stephen Bruton to the next-generation kindred spirits with whom he works today.

It’s easy to see that Smither’s primary touchstone is acoustic blues, once describing his guitar style as “one third Lightnin’ Hopkins, one-third Mississippi John Hurt and one-third me.” While “blues” can evoke images of beer-sodden bar bands cranking out three sets a night wondering why one’s baby left them, Smither reaches back to the primordial longing and infinite loneliness held within the form.

Sure, the album kicks off with the deceptively jaunty title track, whose good-time, ricky-tick shuffle masks the singer’s walking the creaky floorboards of doubt. But the cosmic blues come to the fore on the next cut: “On the Edge” is part conversation, part confessional and part affirmation. This is when you start to realize what extraordinary artistry — what seamless meshing of sound, subject and delivery — is going on here.

Producer David “Goody” Goodrich (credits: Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault, Rose Polenzani, The Amity Front), a true musician’s musician, is a natural partner for Smither. “He knows me and my music so well that I trust his ideas implicitly and he keeps coming back with new ones,” says Smither. “This is my fifth project with Goody and each time he raises the bar.”

The recording sessions came together during early 2012 at Signature Studios in Pomfret, Connecticut. Stopping by were the nexus of two of Boston’s most distinctive and influential acts of the recent era — Treat Her Right’s (later Morphine) drummer Billy Conway and Jimmy Fitting on harmonica, and Goodrich’s ex-Groovasaurus bandmates Anita Suhanin (vocals) and violinist Ian Kennedy (Page/Plant, Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Peter Wolf, Susan Tedeschi).

“I've either worked with or been around all the musicians on this record over the years so it was a very comfortable and personable situation,” says Smither. “All these folks are the best at what they do. It makes my job easy.”

While this is Smither’s twelfth studio album, this is his first-ever outing comprised entirely of self-penned songs. He’s always favored the cream of songwriters, such as Dylan, Mark Knopfler and Chuck Berry, mixed with classics from the blues canon, but this time, the credits read all-Smither. “Actually,” he laughs, “there are two covers on the record; but it’s me covering myself.”

“My producer and manager made the argument — a strong one — that songs from my earlier catalog were written by a young man. I'm not a young man any longer but they thought it would be interesting to interpret work from my youth from the perspective of having been on the planet as long as I've been now.”

While it is no surprise that several of his songs have become virtual standards, it is ironic that the assuredly masculine Smither has found favor almost exclusively with female singers: “Love You (Me) Like a Man” has been recorded countless times, with the best known versions by Bonnie Raitt and Diana Krall, “Slow Surprise” by Emmylou Harris and “I Feel the Same” by Raitt, Candi Staton and Esther Phillips among others.

“We chose ‘I Feel the Same’ because of its conciseness. I’ve been told it’s a good example of less is more,” says Smither. Indeed, in three spare verses, “I Feel the Same” is one of the most hauntingly evocative modern blues ever written. “All that nothin’ causes all that pain,” marvels the singer, as he surveys the desolate landscape of heartbreak before him.

Equally unflinching is “Every Mother’s Son.” Tracing a direct line from Cain to Billy the Kid to David Koresh and Timothy McVeigh, “Every Mother’s Son” is an indelible portrait of nihilism:
I speak to you. I think you'll understand/You know you’ve made your son Joseph a dangerous man/He's gone to town, he's bought himself a gun . . .” “It’s a song I wish would become irrelevant,” says Smither, “But I don’t think it ever will.”

On Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither makes music that simultaneously breaks and fortifies one’s heart. It’s music that acknowledges that even as we are together, we are alone. This is music that stares into that absolute abyss and does not lie. This is music that locks its gaze with life and death and does not look away.

On Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither sings the cosmic blues.

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