Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chris Smither -- Time Stands Still

Time Stands Still
Signature Sounds

Although Chris Smither started his career in the mid-1960s, and released a couple of albums in the early-‘70s, it was his comeback, of sorts, circa 1991, after getting into recovery from alcoholism, that he started to make a series of excellent albums that have cemented his reputation as one of the finest songwriters and interpretive singer-guitarists in contemporary folk and acoustic blues music. Like almost all of his work over the past 18 or so years, Time Stands Still is consistently good in its mix of strong originals and three outstanding covers.

My favourite of Chris’ originals on this set is “Time Stands Still,” the title track. It’s got the classic Smither combination of great lines and great rhymes, fluid, finger-picked guitar rhythms and his patented world-weary, New Orleans drawling singing style.

But as much as I like Chris’ original tunes – and I really do – the two standouts for me on Time Stands Still are his sublime versions of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and Frank Hutchison’s “Miner’s Blues.”

Chris has done several superb Dylan covers on earlier albums. Check out his reimagination of “Desolation Row” on Train Home or the beautiful version of “Visions of Johanna” on Leave the Light On. This version of “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” I think, goes deeper and more intimately into the blues-well than Dylan’s own original on Highway 61 Revisited. One of these days Chris just has to do a whole album of Dylan songs.

“Miner’s Blues,” which Hutchison, perhaps the first white blues artist to make records, recorded back in the 1920s, is a beautiful compendium of floating blues verses from countless early blues songs.

The album has a consistency in its sound in that each of the tracks features the same three musicians: Chris, with his constantly tapping foot and guitar playing; producer David Goodrich on guitar and/or piano; and creative percussionist Zak Trojano.

--Mike Regenstreif

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