Chris Smither - guitar, vocals
Leaving New Orleans to immerse himself in the thriving folk and blues scene around Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960s, Chris Smither soon proved himself to be an eloquent songwriter, masterful guitarist, and a gifted singer, with a rich, emotionally-charged voice. With a songwriting maturity and depth that belied his young age, Smither caught the attention of Cambridge blues promoter and manager, Dick Waterman, an important figure in the blues revival of the 1960s. By 1969, Smither moved to Garfield Street in Cambridge where he regularly visited Waterman's home, where many blues legends of the era were known to assemble. (It was there that Smither first performed his song "Love You Like A Man" for Waterman's friend Bonnie Raitt.)
That same summer, Smither appeared at the high profile Philadelphia Folk Festival and began work on his debut album. Just entering his mid-twenties at the time he released his 1970 debut, I'm A Stranger, Too, Smither was already writing songs with the insight and eloquence of some of the period's best singer/songwriters, but with a distinctly original sound that reflected his Louisiana roots. I'm A Stranger Too was well received, as was the follow-up, Don't It Drag On, and Smither was poised for major success and recognition. However, it was not meant to be. Shortly after being signed to United Artists and recording his third album, the label was purchased and put out of business, resulting in the cancellation of Smither's 1973 album. This bad luck, combined with a dependence on alcohol, sent Smither on a long cycle of depression and although he remained a fixture on the New England folk club scene, he didn't release another record for more than a decade.
Capturing Smither opening for The Byrds during the summer of 1970, this recording is a fascinating glimpse at those early days of his career, shortly after the release of his debut album, when the future looked most promising. Mixing early originals and several choice covers, this is a perfect example of Smither's stoic existential songwriting as well as his Delta-inspired guitar chops. The recording kicks off with two strong covers, beginning with a delightfully laid back take on Ritchie Furay's Buffalo Springfield classic, "Kind Woman." This country flavored crooner is followed by Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," which showcases Smither's strong rhythmic sense and a lovely, fluid, finger picking style. Smither's own "Another Way To Find You" is next. A song that would surface on his second album, this is as enduring as any contemporary blues of the era. While it may not have the innate energy of the "Statesboro Blues" that preceded it, it does display an easy rolling assurance and plainspoken eloquence at work that more than makes up for it. Following is "Love You Like A Man," the song that Bonnie Raitt would eventually revamp into one of her signature early songs. It is quite interesting to hear the original lyrics and arrangement that initially caught her attention.
The set next ventures into pure folk blues with the vintage classic "Cocaine Blues," before Smither tackles the early R&B tune "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" in an infectious East Texas boogie arrangement that he learned from Lightnin' Hopkins. The set concludes with "Lonely Time," a ruminative, melancholic original that finds a perfect balance between confidence and vulnerability, and features intricate, bluesy finger work, a thoroughly original distillation of the folk and blues heroes he grew up listening to in New Orleans.