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Chris Smither‘s Long Train Home

Rick Coates - September 18th, 2003
Thirty-five years and 11 albums later, Chris Smither has found himself at
the top of the singer-songwriting-guitar playing circuit. His tri-fold
talent and musical range could easily find Smither in a variety of bands,
but he stands alone and he prefers it that way.
“I don‘t like over-instrumentation to my songs, I want them to stand alone,“
said Smither. “The only enhancement comes from my guitar and foot.“
Smither has just released his album “Train Home,“ where he again proves his
mastery of the guitar, his passion for catchy lyrics and his ability to
enhance a cover song. He returns to Northern Michigan with a Sept. 20
performance for the Blissfest fall/winter music series in Petoskey and
Sept. 21 in Traverse City at Union Street as part of the “Early Show“

The critics have met “Train Home“ on the streets for just 45 days with
rave reviews. He has been called an “American original,“ and referred to as
the “champion of finger-picking country blues.“ The Washington Post has said
that “Train Home“ is “among Smither‘s finest recordings,“ and Smither
couldn‘t agree more.
“I think it is my best ever,“ said Smither. “Then, I always think my current
is album is my best ever. It is the way it should be, you should get better
with every recording and performance.“
What Smither likes most about the album was the production process.
“I brought in Dave ‘Goody‘ Goodrich to produce it because the two of us are
on the same page,“ said Smither. “We both allow each other to do our thing
and the end result is an album that reflects where I am at musically, so I
am quite pleased.“
“Train Home,“ was recorded over a six-week period in Smither‘s Boston
suburbia home where Smither laid down the basic tracks and then added the
other tracks in the studio.
“This one wound up surprising me,“ said Smither. “It is by far the most
‘acoustic, rootsy‘ feel I‘ve ever had on a produced record. Working at home
and adding other musicians‘ parts later is something I don‘t think I could
have pulled off even a few years ago. To me it sounds surprisingly
spontaneous and unrehearsed, like people who know what they‘re doing and are
having a good time doing it.“
“Train Home“ features seven Smither originals and four covers including
Smither‘s take on Dylan‘s 1965 composition “Desolation Row,“ that features
Smither‘s longtime friend Bonnie Raitt on backing vocals and slide guitar.

Smither has a unique take on playing and recording covers. He recently told
No Depression (July/August 2003) “I will not tackle a cover unless I hear
something that I think the artist missed.“ He adds, “there are
songs that I love but would never do like Ray Charles ‘Drown In My Own
Tears,‘ because he hit every base and there is nothing left for me to do.“
While Smither does covers his songs have been covered by many including
Raitt, whose signature song “Love Me Like A Man,“ was written by Smither (his
version is “Love You Like A Man,“). “That one pays the mortgage,“ Smither likes to joke.
“In fact Bonnie has done such a great job with that song that I have a hard
time convincing people that I wrote the original version.“
His career has come full circle, and at 59, a mature Chris Smither travels the
land playing to full houses 150 nights a year. He has no resentment towards
the artists who used to open for him and have risen above him in
fame -- but not necessarily in talent -- like Raitt and Jackson Browne. He even
felt that at one point he would become a “household name“ himself.
“There was a time during the 1970s that I felt I had all the pieces in
place to become a household name,“ said Smither. “It didn‘t happen and I am
okay with that now.“

Smither takes responsibility for his downward slide toward the end of the
‘70s where he fell victim to his drinking, and has he puts it, was
“unbearable“ for several years until he quit. He entered a recovery
program and in the mid-‘80s he returned to the scene with a vengeance
and hasn‘t looked back, though he does remain critical and modest about his
guitar playing.
“I don‘t put as much emphasis on my guitar playing as I once did,“ said
Smither. “I don‘t believe that I am as good of a player today as I was when
I was younger, I focus more on my guitar work enhancing the song versus
dominating it.“
The critics are not buying it, as they continue to point to Smither‘s
intricate playing style. Raitt refers to Smither as her “Eric Clapton.“
Musically, Smither has come a long way, considering he was pursuing a career
as an anthropologist when he was called into folk music duty.
“Each year in college I found myself doing more music and less studying
until eventually I became a full time musician and dropped out of college. I have no regrets.“

Northern Michigan has two chances to catch Chris Smither: Saturday September
20, 8 p.m. at the Crooked Tree Arts Center, Petoskey to kick off the
fall/winter Bliss Music Series. For additional information visit or call for tickets 231/
348-7047. On Sunday September 21 he performs in Traverse City at Union
Street Station as part of the Early Show Series. The show begins at 7:30
with special guest Ray Bonneville who is opening for Smither during the
tour. For ticket information phone 941-1930. Both venues are smoke-free

(SIDEBAR -- use small helvetica type for artists, if need room)

Blissfest‘s Fall-Winter Lineup:

The Blissfest Folk Concert series is in its 12th year of regular concerts at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in downtown Petoskey. The series features a diverse cross section of traditional American, ethnic and roots music including blues, jazz, bluegrass and folk as well as singer songwriters and other traditional artists. In addition to Chris Smither, the upcoming season includes:

Jack Williams - Fri. Oct. 17
A perennial favorite, Williams is making his way north for his annual fall color tour. Expect a brilliant technician, sincere and honest songwriting. Opening will be Dr. Goodhart’s Home Remedy as part of the month-long focus on area artists at the “new” Crooked Tree Arts Center.

Kirby and Friends - Sat. October 18
The Songwriters Showcase has become an annual event. This fall’s showcase features Kirby, Robin Berry and other area songwriters.

Michael Smith - Fri. Nov. 7
The thing that stands out most in Smith’s work is his unpredictable creativity. Just when you think you know where he’s going, lyrically or musically, he’ll turn a metaphoric corner on you, double back, sneak up behind you and slip a rainbow in your pocket.

Dorothy Scott - Sat. Dec 20
Scott is a dynamic singer who plays piano and acoustic guitar. She splits her time between Door County and Brooklyn, N.Y., and has been described as being a combination of Sarah McLachlan and Jimi Hendrix. Some call her “an eclectic Joni Mitchell.”

All concerts and dances will start at 8 p.m. unless otherwise stated. Advanced tickets are $10, or $12 at the door except for reserved seating which are $12 in advance, with discounts for Blissfest members, students and seniors. For ticket information call (231) 348-7047. Advanced tickets are available at the Grain Train and the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey or Quarters in Harbor Springs. On line at
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