Chris Smither, One of Today's Best Practitioners of Folk/Blues, to Play Oakley's 20th Century Theater

The New Orleans native's most recent album, 2017's 'Call Me Lucky,' reflects a long career’s grace

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click to enlarge Chris Smither - Photo: Jeff Fasano
Photo: Jeff Fasano
Chris Smither
Though Chris Smither hasn’t lived in New Orleans for many years, it somehow makes perfect poetic sense that he originally hails from the Crescent City. What a fitting heritage for one of the best practitioners of Folk/Blues guitar still playing today. With his slow rumble voice, craggy, road-dog looks and a long list of songwriting classics to his credit, Smither still tours regularly in his 70s.

Influenced equally by the gentle fingerpicked odes of Mississippi John Hurt and the surreal-veined ballads of Bob Dylan, Smither offers a particularly potent blend of 21st-century Folk and Blues. His philosophical musings go hand in hand with his consummate guitar playing, which add a wry dimension to his lyrics. Smither’s most recent record recorded in Austin, Texas, 2017’s Call Me Lucky, reflects a long career’s grace with a charisma that still radiates from him and his acoustic music.

Smither’s gritty, foot-to-the-floor percussive approach resounds through all his music, and the two-disc Call Me Lucky set is no exception. This time he plays with a small combo, featuring Billy Conway on drums, David Goodrich on baritone guitar and piano, and Matt Lorenz on violin.

Smither kicks off “The Blame’s on Me” with a growling guess-I’m-guilty vibe funneled through a cascading, spitfire riff. His distinct guitar propels the songs with chugging precision, all sinew and steel strings. His one-man stage act can remind you of an expert busker in the French Quarter, sitting on a milk crate and pumping out some hearty and eclectic Blues.

One of Smither’s great strengths is his ability to transform covers into his own style. This is one of his only records without a Dylan cover, but the Chuck Berry and Beatles substitutes make up for it.

Berry’s “Maybellene” becomes a dark, churning Blues number with Smither bemoaning a Cadillac and a girl with the chiding “Why can’t you be true?” delivered in his bellowing baritone. It’s no longer a teenager’s lament, but an older man’s bittersweet recollection.

On “She Said She Said,” he brings Lennon/McCartney’s London acid trip to the Mississippi Delta, and strips it of all psychedelic artifice, grounding it instead in his earthy realism.

Smither performs Wednesday, April 10 at Oakley's 20th Century Theater. Tickets/more show info:

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