Music Review: Chris Smither – Time Stands Still

I’m stunned…

After all these years, how could I have missed Chris Smither‘s music? Time Stands Still is Smither’s eleventh album in a career spanning four decades – a lifetime of playing live and playing music. And he’s still going strong!

I’d compare him to Bob Dylan, Peter Mulvey or Mark Knopfler style-wise, with a combination of storyteller and amazing guitarist rolled into a single package. And this album is no different, merging his acoustic guitar licks with a blues sensibility and his emotive, grainy voice. The feeling is in each and every guitar lick and each and every note to leave his throat.

Time Stands Still‘s intimate session was recorded in only three days and its songs ponder time’s mysteries. Included are eight original compositions and a song each from Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, and 1920s country-blues songster Frank Hutchinson. Recorded with producer and guitarist David “Goody” Goodrich and drummer Zak Trojano, this stripped-down recording session presents these folksy blues songs as they were meant to be heard.

What blows me away is the range of not only emotion, but how he assembles these songs. They’re simple arrangements, sure, but deep just the same with layered qualities found in those artists who know their fans and themselves very well. The lyrics are expressions of Smither’s view of the world, from the way people are dealing with the world’s current economic troubles to dealing with being the parent of an adopted daughter.

I absolutely love “Surprise, Surprise” with its unique guitar groove and almost sarcastic take on our economic slowdown. “Are you worried ’bout your money? ‘course you are – who wouldn’t be? you thought that you were rich and then you turned on your TV…” There’s truth there with a tongue-in-cheek attitude like you’re being scolded a bit and should have known better.

And “I Told You So” with its amazing guitar work and a touch of parenthood… “Where you as big as you are now when I was born? I been this big a long time, that’s why my face is worn / But were you ever little, and if so where was I? Yes I was, but you weren’t anywhere or anywhy…” The questions of a child that never stop. What’s the dumbest question? “The dumbest one’s the one you never ask of me.” This one hit me as a father who knows “I Don’t Know” is often the best answer to the best intended question.

One of my other favorites is Smither’s version of Knopfler’s “Madame Geneva’s”. I love the original, but have to say that Smither adds a different spin – slowing it down a bit and playing up the blues aspect. Knopfler hit the nail on the head in the days of yore when the plague was high and treason was in season… “Then you’ll find me in Madame Geneva’s / keeping the demons at bay / There’s nothing like gin for drowning them in / but they’ll always be back on a hanging day, on a hanging day…” Even today, I’m sure there are a few of us drowning our troubles in gin.

None of these songs sound over-engineered as I find all too often these days. Each recording highlights Smither’s world-weary, emotive voice and amazing finger-picking. Behind that, Goody adds layers with another guitar and Trojano does a great job keeping the beat and staying out of the way. If time stands still as the album title suggests, then this album gets it moving again.

If you, like me, were oblvious to the amazing musical talents of Chris Smither, then I would strongly encourage you to run out to your favorite retailer on September 29, 2009 to pick up Time Stands Still. I promise you that if you’re a folk/blues fan, you won’t be sorry. And if you already know Smither’s music, you’re ahead of the game!


p.s. Be sure to pick up this album and any of the other amazing albums available from Chris Smither at Amazon below!

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Music Review: The Sea, The Sea by Solomon’s Seal

Hi all…

Folk music is alive and well. Simon Petty has resurrected the sound of 1970’s English folk music by merging his smoky voice with strong piano licks and guitar. Each song seems to merge a melancholy feel with powerful melodies to evoke an emotional connection. Petty also uses unique sounds like the beat of windshield wipers in “Sleeping in the Car” to provide an organic quality to the tracks.

But at the heart of each song, is his lyrics and his voice. The voice is hard to describe without using words like “smoky” and “husky”, but I would most compare it to Peter Gabriel in some respects. Not that Gabriel ever did this style of music, but I think Petty has the same English-born quality that Gabriel has.

Add to that the amazing guitar work and I was in seventh heaven. As an amateur guitar player, I am always listening for picking patterns and transitions and Petty’s style evokes some of the mystique of folk legends like Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon and Garfunkel, and James Taylor.

Almost 10 years ago now, Petty came to America with the quartet Minibar to record an album with T Bone Burnett and Universal Records. Though that album, Road Movies didn’t do well commercially, Minibar stayed in California and made two more albums, touring with bands like Willco, Teenage Fanclub, The Jayhawks, and The Wallflowers.

The Sea, The Sea is Petty’s first solo album, produced by Seth Rothschild and recorded between Texas and Brooklyn. The CD includes eleven great songs, but I found myself gravitating towards tracks like “State of the Union Address” and “A Part of the River” for their strong guitar parts and stirring lyrics.

“State of the Union Address” is a beautiful song about letting a girl down easily, but contains some imagery about the cruelty of such an act. “I know it hurts like / Cigarette burns … but you’ll see / you’ll see / it’s all gonna fade / eventually…” The guitar work reminds me a bit of David Wilcox with the simple, yet moving baseline that keeps the song chugging along with a light feel even with the heavy subject matter.

“A Part of the River” tells the story of a man telling his lover that it’s not going to be an easy road if she stays with him. “And cruel, cruel as I am / I know there’s nothing to rely upon / But the weight of your hand” – it’s a pained love. And he’ll eventually come back to her, but “it won’t be an easy ride / if you try and stay with me / I’m a part of the river / that flows away from the sea” – but he may leave again. Their relationship is like the waves rushing in and out with the tides. With the melody, Petty adds to the simplicity of his guitar and vocals with some backing strings to provide some additional depth.

“Diamond in the Sand” features Petty alone with a guitar and is beautiful in its simplicity, telling the story of a man and woman trying to find a perfect relationship – like trying to find a “diamond in the sand”. Love is hard to find and in the end, he comes to realize that he has what he’s been searching for. “And it occurs to me that we’re wasting our time / I can’t believe what I hold in my hands / Why am I trying to find a diamond in the sand?” He’d already found his diamond in the sand.

If you, like me, are a folk junkie, I think you’ll find The Sea, The Sea by Solomon’s Seal much to your liking. You can take a listen to some of the tracks at Petty’s website – But be sure to support this great artist by picking up his album at his website.


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Music Review: Fascination by the Greencards

Hey there…

What happens when you mix bluegrass, folk, and the blues? You end up with something quite extraordinary. When I first listened to The Greencards‘ new album Fascination I was blown away. There are three songs on the CD I can’t stop listening to. And the rest of the songs are far from throwaways – they just happen to play second fiddle to the songs I can’t get out of my head.

Carol Young and Kym Warner hail from Australia and Eamon McLoughlin is from the U.K. So how did this band form in Austin, TX, and end up being based in Nashville, TN? And how the heck have they slipped under my radar since 2003?

It was their love of bluegrass that brought them all together in the States. From there, over the last few years they’ve recorded multiple albums and toured with such greats as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. Their fans aren’t the only ones who know a good group when they hear it. They’ve gathered many awards and acclamations, from the Americana Music Award for “Emerging Artist of the Year” in 2006 to 2008’s “Best Country Instrumental Performance” Grammy nomination for Viridian. If Fascination is any indication, the group is only getting better.

The trio merges voice and natural instruments to let the music simply take over. And from the first track to the last, I found my toes tapping and my body wanting to dance (something you really don’t want to see). I have never heard so many instruments, from bass and bouzouki, to violin and xylophone, played so flawlessly by such a small group. It just takes over and fills your heart.

Young has one of those voices that haunts me. She could probably sing the phone book and I’d pay to hear it. And when paired with the harmonies and strings of Kym and Eamon, there are layers that just give me the chills.

What totally blew me away is how effortless it seems as a listening experience. The album flows from beginning to end and just takes you along for the ride.

But beyond the instruments and vocals, the songs are unique. If you listen to the melodies, you hear elements of country, bluegrass, the blues, jazz, and even some rock thrown in for good measure. And then if you listen to the lyrics, each tells a story with the rhythm of poetry.

The core of the album for me comes down to three songs… “Chico Calling”, “Three Four Time”, and “Davey Jones.”

“Chico Calling” with its light, folksy guitar and violin picking throughout builds to tell the story of a woman following her lover wherever he may go… “We ain’t got no money / we’re livin’ on a dream / and I look like a beggar / following at your feet / and baby I’ll follow you wherever you go…” The song builds and sounds like the train she’s trying to ride on as you listen to the train whistle with her.

If you listen to the bluesy “Three Four Time”, the baseline seems to sing with Young. It’s been stripped down to include just a bit of violin in the background, the barest bit of percussion, the baseline and her voice crooning “You’re buried deep in my soul / the one thing I can’t control / you’ve eased my mind / you came in three-four time…”

But for me, “Davey Jones” is the pinnacle of the CD. Each time I hear it, I get chills down my spine. As I hunted for the lyrics, I discovered that it’s a cover of an original song performed and written by Gordie Sampson. The Greencards’ version uses silence to punctuate the story of a drowning man better than any other song I’ve heard. And there’s something about the bittersweet melodies and lyrics that touches the heart of sailors everywhere tempting fate with each tide.

Be sure to check out The Greencards’ album Fascination. They have a unique sound that makes them stand out from the crowd as something new. I can hardly wait to hear what’s next for them.

If you want to hear some of their music online, check out their MySpace page and their website. They’re currently on tour, so be sure to check them out when they’re in your neighborhood!


p.s. Pick up the Greencards albums at Amazon and enjoy this amazing music!

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