ALBUMS: The Levee Still Rises

Chris Smither reboots more songs from his vast repertoire 

Chris Smither (Art: Ron Hart)

Chris Smither never quite reached the upper tier of awareness amongst the masses, and yet it’s certainly not for lack of effort.

With 18 albums to his credit, his ceaseless appeal is limited to a devoted but sadly diminished following that appreciates his flawless guitar picking and a voice that’s as smooth as a remote wind-strewn stretch of sand.

Artist: Chris Smither

Album: More From The Levee

Label: Signature Sounds Records

★★★★ (4/5 stars)

More From the Levee is an obvious follow up to his milestone retrospective Still on the Levee, a double disc released in 2014 to celebrate his half century of music-making. All told, it’s a belated effort that’s paid off through a style that deftly blends acoustic blues and an unabashed folk finesse. The new album marks a belated return of sorts, one that features re-recordings of songs from his catalog that didn’t make the final cut on that otherwise rarified retrospective the first time around. While the late Allen Toussaint makes brief appearance on piano and drummer Billy Conway of Morphine helps accentuate the rhythms, the album as a whole comes across as an intimate affair, driven by Smither’s world-weary vocals, his supple fretwork and a distinctive groove that he often propels under his own aegis. 

Chris Smither More From The Levee, Signature Sounds Recordings 2020

In that sense, it’s an ideal companion piece and a condensed compendium for the completist as well as an ideal introduction for the newcomer. Granted, there’s far too much verve and variety in Smither’s catalogue to effectively condense it to one, or even two, sets of songs, but the supple strains of the half-spoken, half-sung “Let It Go,” the loosely rambling “I Am the Ride,” the breezily melodic “What To Do” and the gentle yet jaunty “Hey Hey Hey,” all reflect and represent his life-long fascination with Lightnin’ Hopkins and the other purveyors of Delta blues that he’s always illuminated through his own efforts.

Ultimately, these ten songs are simply sized up as a sampler, though they offer ample reason for further exploration and edification. Indeed, the final song of this set, “Father’s Day,” a tender track about reconciliation between parent and child, is all the evidence necessary to understand Smither’s insights and intelligence.

The best recommendation one can offer is to give this album a thorough listen and then make it a point to pursue Smither’s additional output as well. As More From the Levee consistently confirms, that reservoir is indeed well stocked. 



VIDEO: Chris Smither Parlor Room Session 2020

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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