As he mentioned during his show, Chris Smither got his musical start during the blues revival of the 1960s. During that time, he met and hung out with some of the greatest bluesmen of all-time, including Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, and Lightnin’ Hopkins.
He learned his lessons well, as he’s been a premier songwriter and blues guitarist since his 1971 debut, I’m a Stranger, Too! His intimate solo acoustic show, which included a lot of stories and joking with the crowd, fit the atmosphere of the Dakota perfectly.
Smither played many songs from his latest album, 2018’s Call Me Lucky. The understated beauty of the solo acoustic performances got to the heart of the songs better than the full-band studio versions. His new material is as inventive as ever, especially “The Blame’s On Me” (“I think the universe is guilty/the blame’s on me”) and “Everything on Top” (“round and round/seen from the other side/upside down/everything on top/is what we once called the underground”).
He told a number of funny stories about how the album-making process works, noting that he books studio time nine months in advance because it gives him a deadline to work under (and that nine months is a “good amount of time for an album to gestate”). The highlight of his banter was a joke about two dogs and a cat that get to heaven, but it’d lose something if I tried to type it out. If you want to know it, talk to Smither, or buy me a drink and maybe I’ll tell you.
Although his material was the foundation of the show, Smither also played a handful of creative covers. It was hard to top ‘20s blues classic “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and a minor-key take on Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline,” but his gorgeous version of Bob Dylan’s esoteric classic “Visions of Johanna” was simply incredible.
Smither ended the show with a blistering take on Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.” The passionate performance showed just how deeply the blues still affect him, as his entire set did.