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Chris Smither

WHO IS HE?

In a career that's just passed the 50-year mark, Chris Smither has made his name at the intersection of folk and blues. Possessing talent and originality that should've propelled him to real stardom, Smither has instead stayed remarkably below the radar, releasing two dozen studio, live and compilation albums since 1970.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Smither was a Tulane student bound for a study abroad year in Paris when he saw his hero, Mississippi John Hurt, at the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village. Later, it was folksinger Eric Von Schmidt who convinced Smither to seek out the folk scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he began performing his own songs.

BUY THIS ALBUM

For introductions to Smither's music, two albums work very well. "Still On the Levee," released on July 22, is a career-spanning retrospective double album. Recording in New Orleans, Smither revisits highlights from across his years, with special guests including Allen Toussaint and Loudon Wainwright III.

The 2000 "Live As I'll Ever Be" is a stunning set, showcasing Smither's fantastic guitar picking on songs from the four albums he released in the 1990s, as well some choice covers of classic blues, including Robert Johnson.

ESSENTIAL TRACKS

"Happier Blue," 1993. With rich production and a full band, the "Happier Blue" album earned Smither a National American Independent Record Distributors award. The sly wordplay on this title track pushes the idea that having the blues can be happier than not. It's Smither's take on the Bob Dylan line: "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose."

"Slow Surprise," 1997. A tender ballad, this tune is one of Smither's best, yearning and poetic, with mesmerizing guitar picking.

"Diplomacy," 2006. Named as the 42nd best song of the year by Rolling Stone, this is a jumpy blues shuffle, with the memorable opening lines: "We're getting edgy / we better find a war / there must be something worth fighting for Peace is so peaceful / there ain't no way to survive / When nobody hates you nobody knows you're alive."

"Train Home," 2003.

Restrained and quiet, the album puts its focus squarely on Smither's guitar and comforting baritone. "Train Home" is a wonderful album and this title track in particular provides the feel of listening to a master.

More by Eric Swedlund

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