Tuesday, November 24, 2009

*When Time Fails You - The Music Of Chris Smither- “Time Stands Still”

Click on title to link to YouTube's film clip of Chris Smither performing a cover of Bob Dylan's classic "Desolation Row".

CD Review

Time Stands Still, Chris Smither, Signature Sounds, 2009

The name Chris Smither, or rather the musical artist formerly known as Chris Smithers as I now stand corrected from previous reviews (the details of which do not need to be delved into here), is a familiar one to readers of my reviews in this space. I have, usually, heartily thrown many kudos Brother Smither’s way starting from his first ‘wild boy’ days of “Love You Like A Man” as the new sheriff on the block in folkdom and on through his various incarnations and mood swings. Throughout I have always admired his sense of time and his way with a lyric. But something is out of joint with the times here. With the exception of his cover of Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” I think he mailed this one in. More than that my companion who LOVES everything that Chris has previously done is of the same opinion. That is not good for she knows the Chris catalogue backward and forward.

Reasons? Well, for starters with the exception of his ode to his late father, “Old Man Down”, the lyrics seem like more of the same melancholy, morose, although poignant words that we have gotten used to over the past several albums. Even his novelty song “Surprise, Surprise” seemed trite on a second hearing. Nothing jumps out like that old ode to “Lola” from a couple of albums back. Or the indignity, in verse, of his auto getting stolen from that same album. Time has stood still. Moreover his singing and playing is off. The punch of a song like Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues “ or “Killin’ The Blues” that is kind of a benchmark for that foot-driven beat that is Chris's trademark (along with the old blue guitar) is just not there. Has Chris turned into that old geezer that he, and I, have dreaded all our lives?

To end on a positive note though. Chris, over the last few albums, has done covers of Bob Dylan songs (stemming, I think, from, a workshop that he presented several years ago at the Boston Folk Festival). He has previously covered “Desolation Row (short version)” and “Visions Of Johanna” to great effect. Here he does even better on the above-mentioned “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes At Train To Cry” because his raspy voice fits the slower, and, I think, more appropriate tempo that the song deserves. Dylan played it too fast to catch the pathos of the imaginary. For those who have heard the Dylan Bootleg Volume Three version which is even faster that point is really driven home here. Kudos on that one, Chris.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby,
Can't buy a thrill.
Well, I've been up all night, baby,
Leanin' on the window sill.Well, if I dieOn top of the hillAnd if I don't make it,
You know my baby will.
Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good, mama,
Flagging down the "Double E"?
Don't the sun look good
Goin' down over the sea?Don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' after me?
Now the wintertime is coming,
The windows are filled with frost.
I went to tell everybody,But I could not get across.
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don't wanna be your boss.
Don't say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.

Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music

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