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Music Review: Chris Smither – Hundred Dollar Valentine

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Chris Smither’s family moved to New Orleans when he was three years old. If you’re going to spend most of your adult life as a traditional blues artist, channeling the sound and style of such artists as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Son House, then New Orleans is a good place to call home.

His recording career extends back to 1970 when he released his debut album, I’m A Stranger Too. He has just issued his 12th studio album, Hundred Dollar Valentine.

His songs remain firmly rooted in the blues roots of the southern Delta yet they take on a modern character as he fills in the sound. He is, at heart, an acoustic performer who lets his six string do the talking. There are few studio tricks as technology is kept to a minimum. He also has a voice that was made for the blues as it combines power and weariness.

He is supported by an excellent band consisting of drummer Billy Conway, cello player Kris Delmhorst, slide guitarist David Goodrich, harmonica player Jimmy Fitting, violinist Ian Kennedy, and additional vocalist Anita Suhanin.

While Smither’s has been prolific in the studio, this is his first album comprised entirely of original compositions. Previously he had combined material by such artists as Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, and Mark Knopfler, mixed with a selection of traditional blues classics.

The title song runs against the grain of much of the album. It is a perky track that somewhat masks the lyrics of self-doubt. His cosmic blues side comes front and center with “On The Edge,” which is part conversation and part confessional.

“I Feel the Same” proves that sometimes simple is best. The lyrics and music are concise and sparse as he explores the themes of desolation and love. “Every Mother’s Son” is a tale of nihilism as it travels the journey of Cain to Billy the Kid, to David Koresh, to Timothy McVeigh

The songs of Chris Smither are both honest and direct, musically and lyrically. He describes his style as “one-third Lightnin’ Hopkins, one-third Mississippi John Hurt, and one-third me.” Hundred Dollar Valentine is an album of infinite longing and loneliness created within a blues form.

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