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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review: Chris Smither - Time Stands Still

Chris Smither - Time Stands Still
2009, Signature Sounds/Mighty Albert

Chris Smither has been playing his mixture of Blues and Folk music for audience for four decades now, dealing with primal emotions and human frailty in honest, illuminating songs that celebrate the shortcomings of mankind rather than become bogged down in them. On September 29, Smither releases his eleventh album, Time Stands Still. The mix of original tunes and covers on Time Stands Still was recorded in just three days, with the songs stripped down to their most elemental forms. Producer/guitarist David "Goody" Goodrich and drummer Zak Trojano are the only other personnel on the album.

Smither opens with the Acoustic Blues & Folk of Don't Call Me Stranger. The song, or at leas he narrator, is depraved, decadent and highly entertaining. The guitar work here is exquisite. In the course of our lives, there are certain moments that are burned into our consciousness forever. Smither documents just such a moment in Time Stands Still. Smither's voice is gravelly and falls somewhere between a Mississippi drawl and a Nawlins Cajun flavored palette. It's not a pretty voice, but it sure is captivating. Surprise, Surprise is a definite highlight; highly catchy Acoustic Blues. The star song on the CD is I Don't Know. Written as a tongue-in-cheek observation and objectification of parenting, I Don't Know is both funny and wise, with an arrangement that wraps around it like a comfortable sweater. The wisdom and wit boil over into Call Yourself, which has one of the more memorable melodies on the disc.

I Told You So features some of the finest guitar work on the disc (and that's saying a great deal). Folk, Rock and Blues all find their way into this exquisite arrangement. Bob Dylan gets a little face time with Smither's cover of It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; a song about heartache and loss. The cover is well done, although I didn't enjoy it as much as the rest of the disc (to be fair, it's not one of my favorite Dylan songs). Miner's Blues, on the other hand, features some wonderful fingerpick Blues guitar. The Frank Hutchison classic gets top shelf treatment. Time Stands Still closes out with a cover of Mark Knopfler's Madame Geneva's, with Smither peeling back the layers on a great modern tune and revealing, in his own fashion, what a truly wonderful song it is.

In spite of being around for a long time, Chris Smither is an artist I'd managed not to be familiar with in advance of the review. Smither doesn't have a pretty voice, but it's one that compels you to listen, and is boiled down from the voices of the great Bluesmen of the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans. His guitar work is breathtaking and you really couldn't ask more of him as a songwriter. The performances on Time Stands Still make me want to go out and find copies of his other albums. If your tastes run to Folk or Blues then you need to spend some time getting to know Chris Smither. Time Stands Still is essential.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Chris Smither at or Time Stands Still drops on September 29, 2009. You can pre-order the CD at Expect wide availability in both digital and traditional formats.

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