Published Sep 30, 2014That clichéd term "a songwriters' songwriter" has the ring of truth when it comes to Chris Smither. Long undervalued as a folk singer/guitarist, the biggest success of his 50-year career has come as a songwriter, with his tunes covered by the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall and Emmylou Harris. He turns 70 this month, so it's a fitting time for this tribute to his songs from a stellar list of Americana artists.
It's hard to go wrong with an album that leads off with Dave Alvin, Loudon Wainwright III, Mary Gauthier and Josh Ritter, isn't it? (Alvin and Gauthier, especially, are on their A-game here). Other notables appearing later include Raitt, Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane), Tim O'Brien, Peter Case and Patty Larkin, alongside such lesser-knowns as Eilen Jewell, Heather Maloney, Peter Mulvey, Mark Erelli & Jeffrey Foucault and Paul Cebar (whose boisterous version of "No Love Today" is a highlight). Raitt contributes a live version of "Love Me Like a Man," the first song Smither ever wrote and long a staple on her setlist. The natural eclecticism of Smither's songwriting is an asset, ensuring enough stylistic variety to keep things interesting. He has long drawn from the blues, as represented here by "Love Me Like A Man" and "Can't Shake These Blues," yet is equally at home with sparse and literate folk songs like "Rosalie" and "Leave The Light On" (covered by Kaukonen and an album highlight) and the witty wordplay of "Origin Of Species."
The very enjoyable Link Of Chain can stand alone as a well-executed Americana compilation, but hopefully it can also encourage further exploration of Smither's solid and extensive body of work. (Signature Sounds)