LINK OF CHAIN: A SONGWRITERS TRIBUTE TO CHRIS SMITHER
Tribute albums have become quite the thing. There appears to have been a growing stream of them in recent years, a way of celebrating an artist through the contributions of peers, each providing a nod in their own voice. It used to be well-known performers being acknowledged, but now the format has spread to honoring the not-so-famous.
So here’s one for Chris Smither, who I first encountered at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest in 2013. I didn’t actually see his set that year (can’t recall why) but I stumbled upon an interview with him at the Rhythms (Australian roots magazine) tent – see Jim Jacob’s picture above. It was a fascinating session, uncovering (for me) a unique songwriter’s observations and rampant humour. I’ve since tried to pick up some of his material, something I’ve yet managed to achieve.
So my first proper exposure is now, through Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither released on the Signature Sounds label and distributed in Australia through The Planet Company. It has just been released as recognition of Chris Smither’s 70th birthday and the 50 year anniversary of his songwriter (clearly I’m a long way behind the curve here).
The first insight from me after hearing Link of Chain a few times is, how could one person write all these diverse, eclectic and engaging tunes? They contain classic blues, tender ballads, witty observations, trad. jazz, heartfelt folk and rocking melodies. The second observation is the overall strength of the storytelling – you are drawn into the lyrics, trying to capture every word and nuance. The third point is the high-grade artists that have participated in this project, friends and peers alike such as Loudon Wainwright III, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Alvin, Mary Gauthier, Eilen Jewell, Tim O’Brien and Patty Larkin (to name the most prominent).
Many first took notice of Chris Smither in the early ’70s when Bonnie Raitt started covering his songs, making “Love You Like a Man” a staple of her repertoire and famously calling Smither “my Eric Clapton.” For this tribute album Raitt contributes a passionate live version of that tune, which she introduces by calling Smither “one of my favorite artists.” “I Feel the Same,” another song previously covered by Raitt, is devastatingly sung by Mary Gauthier.
This is an important album, a worthy addition to your collection. It’s a stark reminder for me that I need to search out some original material from this important and, as can be gleaned here, highly regarded artist.
1. Dave Alvin “Link of Chain”
2. Loudon Wainwright III “A Place in Line”
3. Mary Gauthier “I Feel the Same”
4. Josh Ritter “Rosalie”
5. Paul Cebar “No Love Today”
6. Eilen Jewell “Can’t Shake These Blues”
7. Jorma Kaukonen “Leave the Light On”
8. Aoife O’Donovan with Stephanie Coleman “Small Revelations”
9. Tim O’Brien “Origin of Species”
10. Bonnie Raitt “Love Me Like a Man” (live)
11. Peter Mulvey “Time To Spend”
12. Mark Erelli & Jeffrey Foucault “Song for Susan”
13. Heather Maloney “Call Yourself”
14. Peter Case “Caveman”
15. Patty Larkin “Train Home”