Album Review: Chris Smither’s ‘More from the Levee’ Offers Unfiltered Bayou Blues

From the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Pat Moran

With jaunty, spiraling picking, veteran singer-songwriter Chris Smither kicks off More from the Levee with “Lonely Time,” a song he first recorded on his 1972 debut album I’m a Stranger Too. Aside from a sashaying original, “What I Do,” the bulk of the tunes on Smither’s 18th album also draw from the past—they are previously unreleased gems from the 2013 New Orleans sessions that resulted in Smither’s stunning career retrospective Still on the Levee.

A listen to the existential front porch saunter “Caveman,” or the cyclical and wistful “Father’s Day,” will assure fans that these tunes are not mere leftovers from the lauded sessions that included the late Allen Toussaint, the Motivators, and members of Morphine. The present collection features unfiltered Smither—philosophical fatalism delivered in a bourbon-smooth rasp over picking that moves like a like a river’s current. In the intoxicating roadside gothic “Drive You Home Again,” Smither’s effortless, bouncing guitar floats over rolling and crashing drums as his guttural vocal promises a seductive and terrible journey. Toussaint’s piano crests like breakers as Smither’s slivery, razor-sharp guitar unfurls the loping melody of “Let It Go.”

On the swaggering “Old Man Down,” Smither’s bent-note blues picking is countered by distant dissonant piano, just as Anita Suhanin’s spectral whisper shadows Smither’s sepulchral growl. And the insouciant and airy “Hey Hey Hey” may be Smither’s most cogent combination of picking and philosophizing to date. As whirlwind guitar weaves through rambling drums, Smither grapples with the absurdist cosmos and decides to make it his friend. 

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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