Chris Smither | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chris Smither 

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Chris Smither has cited Lightnin' Hopkins as his first blues hero, but Smither's guitar playing is smoother and more densely textured than Hopkins's was. Smither's style also embraces Delta and Piedmont blues, Appalachian folk, and country pickers like Merle Travis and Doc Watson as well as contemporary pop and country. Through the years he's covered works by artists as diverse as Randy Newman, J.J. Cale, John Hiatt, and Chuck Berry, but he's also an accomplished songwriter--his "Love You Like a Man" is one of Bonnie Raitt's signature tunes. On his latest, Train Home (Hightone), Smither romps through Mississippi John Hurt's "Candy Man," accentuating its medicine-show gaiety rather than the salaciousness of its lyrics, and he brings a bluesy fatalism ("Big-time plans are like a pistol in your hand") to his own chugging folk-rock boogie "Call Time." His finger work is at its most plangent and meditative on a truncated version of Dylan's "Desolation Row," accompanying Raitt's sparse, dreamlike slide solo and her gritty, sweet, oddly tentative vocal harmony. Smither sometimes gets dorky ("I don't pick no cotton, I never pick my nose") or New Agey ("The size of things is just a state of mind"), but at his best, as on the title tune, he infuses even the most prosaic sentiments ("Take me as I am, not what I wanna be") with country-gospel fervor. Sunday, September 28, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Norberg.

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