Leave the Light On
Mighty Albert/Signature Sounds
Chris Smither is someone a friend of mine has been trying to get me into for a long time and now I see why. On Leave the Light On, Smither showcases the lived-in voice and stellar acoustic blues guitar picking that have won him acclaim from folks like my friend for more than 40 years.
The disc gets off to a terrific start with the wry shuffle “Open Up” and the fantastic title tune, a song about growing old, the passage of time and its occasional fluidity. He revisits that theme later on in the touching, almost Tom Waits-like “Father’s Day,” in which he hopes to find the words to communicate with his dad before he’s gone. “Small time left to make that small talk right/ It takes so long to say more than goodnight/ Those last lines are the toughest; last one out will please shut out the light,” Smither sings.
Smither’s gruff, mumbly vocals recall folks like Mark Knopfler, J.J. Cale, and Bruce Springsteen in his more acoustic moments. His easy humor should appeal to John Prine fans as well. He’s backed on the album by some talented people including the always amazing multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien. Gospel revivalists Ollabelle also provide vocals on a couple of tracks.
Smither also pays tribute to some influences and contemporaries on Leave the Light On, not always to good effect. Though his acoustic guitar picking is flawless, he sounds nearly comatose on a cover of Peter Case’s “Cold Trail Blues.” His take on Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” is curiously leaden as well, given an odd time signature and drained of much of its familiar melody. The Lightin’ Hopkins number “Blues in the Bottle” fairs a bit better with Smither’s 12-string dueling with David Goodrich’s resonator guitar and with Smither singing in a Leon Redbone-style drawl.
But the best songs here are Smither originals. “Origin of Species” is a very funny attempt to explain intelligent design and reconcile the Bible with evolution. Smither’s guitar picking is masterful and O’Brien’s mandolin shines. Smither also turns in a surprisingly rocking protest song called “Diplomacy.” “We got the land of the free, blind and leadin’ the lame,” he sings.
So to my friend, sorry I didn’t take your word for it and check out Chris Smither sooner. And to Chris Smither, here’s hoping you can stick around for a few more decades. Because if it’s taken me this long to discover you, there have got to be plenty of other folks out there ignoring their friends too. And this is a talent that should not be ignored.
Chris Smither: www.smither.com