Chris Smither – Time Stands Still

January 01, 1970

(Signature Sounds)


Audiences at Chris Smither concerts can sit spellbound,
enraptured by that delicate fingerpicking, rocking to the syncopated beats of
his feet tapping on a microphoned slab of wood, and enjoying the play of words
which convey emotional truths and a bit of comedy. It’s just Smither up there,
doing what he’s done his whole career (which stretches back to the early ‘70s,
but was interrupted by a gap of some years until a more successful resumption
in the late ‘80s).


Ah, but a recording requires something to differentiate it
from the live performance, and that’s why ever since 1993’s Happier Blue, Smither’s albums have been
augmented by tasteful slices of overdubbed lead guitar and a little bit of
percussion. Never mind that the man’s own lead guitar playing is among the most
intriguing and inventive variations on post-blues singer/songwriter melodic
construction. The records are here to focus on the songs and the singing.


Time Stands Still,
Smither’s first album in three years, was once again produced by Dave Goodrich,
though this time there are no guest vocals from Ollabelle or guest lead guitar
from Tim O’Brien, as on Leave the Light
. There are also no insightful and witty political diatribes a la “Diplomacy” or the amazing “Origin
of the Species,” though “Surprise, Surprise” does have a verse about the
failures of banks. If time is standing still for Smither, it’s because he’s once
again exploring the many ways in which the world can surprise, delight, and
convex us. If time is moving forward, it’s obvious that his voice is in better
shape this year than it was in 2006, though perhaps still not quite as rich as
it was in the ‘90s.


One thing did stay the same for this third studio album of
the 21st Century; Smither once again puts his own stamp on a Bob
Dylan song. The astonishing “Desolation Row” from 2003’s Train Home remains the template, which was echoed by the “Visions
of Johanna” from Leave the Light On.
This time, it’s a slowed down “It Takes a Lot to a Laugh, It Takes a Train to
Cry,” on which Smither strips away the harsh sneer of the original, and reveals
the sad and lonesome heart which may not have been immediately apparent. That’s
actually a Smither trademark, as anyone who’s ever heard his rendition of
Roland Salley’s “Killing the Blues” could tell you. (More people, by the way,
have heard Robert Plant and Allison Krauss do the second-best version of this
longtime Smither live highlight.)


The two songs most likely to stick in Smither’s live
repertoire include the aforementioned “Surprise, Surprise” on which money woes,
love woes, and the lack of an answer from religion are cleverly pointing out to
pale before the inevitable mortality we’ll all face. Did I mention it’s a fun
song? And then comes “I Don’t Know,” a philosophical number which points out
the path to wisdom is admitting you don’t know the answer, all set to a
surprising Caribbean influenced rhythm on Smither’s guitar he hasn’t explored
before. Not that the other songs are anything to sneeze at; Smither seems
incapable of putting together anything that won’t offer at least a small


Standout Tracks: “Surprise,
Surprise,” “I Don’t Know,” “It Takes a Lot to
Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” STEVE




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