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Leave the Light on

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Audio CD, September 19, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Chris's brand new album, Leave the Light On (his second with producer David "Goody" Goodrich) features seven new songs as well as a few choice covers, and arrangements of traditional songs. The album also features the young neo-gospel group Ollabelle, who bring a complementary loveliness to Smither's 'Seems So Real' and additional resonance to the traditional 'John Hardy'. The renowned roots musician Tim O'Brien plays mandolin and fiddle all over the record, and also harmonizes with Smither, Sean Staples and Anita Suhanin on the lilting title track. Atypically, Chris tackles topical themes on 'Origin of Species' (which he says is "making fun of dummies") and the edgily political 'Diplomacy', which harkens back to his roots in the '60s folk scene. Also different this go round is Smither's bold and surprising decision to arrange Dylan's 'Visions of Johanna' in 6/8 time (he credits his friend Steve Tilston for the suggestion) which results in a track of otherworldly beauty.

This album's title cut finds the veteran folk-blues troubadour, now in his early 60s, pondering the possibility of living to be 100, thus setting the thematic tone for an uncommonly reflective, meditative set. The ragtime Zen of "Open Up," the philosophical "Seems So Real," and the rock-bottom despair in his cover of Peter Case's "Cold Trail Blues" all suggest that the virtuosic fingerpicker and evocatively smoky vocalist has reached a point in his life where he's pondering the biggest issues of mortality, a perspective that informs the complex relationship in "Father's Day." Not all of the material is that introspective, as the uptempo, electric rock of "Diplomacy" is as sardonic as Randy Newman, while "Origin of the Species" encapsulates Adam and Eve, Charles Darwin, and intelligent design. Smither also pays homage to two seminal influences, transforming Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" into an acoustic, accordion-laced waltz and reviving Lightnin' Hopkins's version of the traditional "Blues in the Bottle." Ollabelle provide harmonies on two cuts, with mandolinist Tim O' Brien also offering instrumental and vocal support. --Don McLeese

1. Open Up
2. Leave The Light On
3. Shillin' For The Blues
4. Seems So Real
5. Origin Of Species
6. Cold Trail Blues
7. Diplomacy
8. Father's Day
9. Visions Of Johanna
10. Blues In A Bottle
11. John Hardy
12. John Hardy Reprise

Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 19, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Signature Sounds Recordings
  • ASIN: B000H0M5BK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,237 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Lee Armstrong HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 4, 2006
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Chris Smither has been turning out a consistently excellent catalog of music. Each new release is a worthy successor to the last. "Leave the Light On" is another excellent collection. The first track, appropriately titled "Open Up," has a country flavor with Tim O'Brien's mandolin percolating with Chris' usual wit, "It comes as no surprise that I can't analyze my usual refusal to open up my eyes." The title track is an acoustic gem that observes the passing of time, "It's like water. It runs right through our fingers, but the flavor of it lingers like a rich red wine." On "Seems So Real" the band Ollabelle joins on background vocals on a sweet shuffle. My favorite track is "Origin of the Species" as Chris takes on Darwin and offers evolution as the divine technique. Peter Case's "Cold Trail Blues" receives a soft embrace from Chris & his distinctive acoustic guitar style. On a CD where Massachusetts native Smither thanks John Kerry, he then rocks out politically, "We got the guns, we got the oilmen too, They're like a choir, they wanna sing for you. Wham! Bam! Slip-slidin' away; The less you got, the more you gonna pay." He ends, "It's the land of the free, blind and leadin' the lame." "Father's Day" is a gentle slow tune for anyone who has loved their dad. Chris' version of Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" shines the familiar melody, "Just Louise & her lover so entwined; & these visions of Johanna that call from my mind." Two traditional tunes, "Blues in the Bottle" & "John Hardy" conclude this strong set. Chris Smither's music is soulful, rootsy, gentle but sometimes violent with witty lyrics that tweak your mind while your foot taps to the beat. Bravo!
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Theresa J. Alsup on September 24, 2006
Format: Audio CD
I love this CD. It's hard to write a review that doesn't make this sound less than it is, it's that good. Smither's writing has never been better, and his covers-- Cold Trail Blues and Visions of Johanna-- bring a whole new beauty to each piece. My favorite is the title track; it's catchy, tightly written, warm, full of understanding and that touch of humor that distinguishes Smither's work. I'm with him on Origin of Species (like I am on Train Home.) They draw such a gentle line between where we can be sure of ourselves and where we probably shouldn't. And after listening to Smither sing the blues, I always feel like trying again.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paul Bellefeuille on September 22, 2006
Format: Audio CD
Ever since I heard him talking about this cd on WUMB FolkRadio this past June, I have been anxiously awaiting this gem.You can feel his enthusiasm pour through every song. Even "Cold Trail Blues" the Peter Case tune with all of its darkness and as Chris said.."Man this is Really, Really dark..", has a feeling that he, Chris, has met the challenges of the character of the song and lived to tell the world. Steve Tilston suggested to Chris a while back that "Visions of Johanna" could be done in waltz time, so Chris does it in 6/8 time and brings incredible feeling and a fresh interpretation to Dylan's masterpiece, thus making this work of art his own. "Father's Day" pays tribute to his 94 year old dad.The last lines reveal much.."But I took all you gave or ever wanted to. "Ain't I done good" I needed that from you. All I got to say is, by the way, you done good too." One also has to consider that Chris is now a dad. He and his wife adopted a jewel of a child and now he plays the role of very proud papa. I know that I'm not the only one who has heard "John Hardy" and couldn't figure out what was being said. With Chris' interpretation by slowing down the tempo, one get's a full view of this mini opus.

The "John Hardy Reprise" comes shimmering in and leaves the listener reaching for something to keep off the chill.

Let's all hope that Signature Sounds keeps Chris in their stable of multi multi talented artists.

The Grammy Awards are awaiting you Chris.."you done good too."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Patterson on November 2, 2006
Format: Audio CD
A master piece. This and his last albumn, "Train Home" represent a body of work most musicians could only dream of in a lifetime. To call Chris Smither a bluesman doesn't come close. Always known as a musician's musician, Smither combines his amazing skill on the acosutical guitar with his Dylan-esque mastery of the English language to take blues to another level altogether. But unlike Dylan, Smither does not use language impressionistically. This is a man with ideas, big ones, who leaves the listener with no doubt about where he stands on the issues he examines - what it means to be human and alive.

This guy is one of America's great lyricists. Consider this take on self-destructive behavior from "Seems so Real":

Up or down * Never mind the level * If down were up you coundn't get much higher* Working hard * Digging with a shovel * Trying to set your soul on fire* But it don't burn * These easy things are hard to learn

A bit beyond "my baby done left me", wouldn't you say? Or later in the same song when he tackles consciousness itself:

I mind my brain * Its real enough to shatter * Behind my eyes up between my ears * I think of mind * It's the ruler of the matter * But its nothing but the whinning of gears * It seems so real * But its nothing but the spinning of wheels

The albumn is full of gems like these. My only complaint and its a small one is that the albumn is a slightly under-produced. One has to strain a bit to hear the incredible musicians he has backing him up on most of these songs. I'm definately in the less is more when it comes to production but this is a bit too muted for my taste.

Buy this albumn though, you won't be disappointed.
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