Chris Smither,
Live As I'll Ever Be
(Hightone, 2000)

Nearly a decade has passed since Chris Smither's last live album, Another Way To Find You, a fairly complete chronicle of the venerable singer/songwriter's career through almost three decades. Live As I'll Ever Be, masterfully recorded and produced by Darleen Wilson, picks up where that left off and essentially portrays the essence of Smither's four-record volume of work since 1992.

In my opinion, rarely has a live album captured so eloquently the artist at the peak of performance. With sixteen tracks, recorded at eight different venues both in the U.S. and abroad, Wilson presents Smither in the element he loves so well, including small, intimate locations with quiet and appreciative, never intrusive audiences, and where the masterful Delta blues guitarist is free to let loose with his flawless fingerpicking, gritty, deep rumbling voice and percussive boot-heel stomping.

Wilson, who has produced such talents as Catie Curtis, Patty Larkin and Cry Cry Cry -- with partner Alan Williams -- must have had a devil of a time deciding what to finally include on this record. But she and Smither have done well in selecting songs that provide a well-balanced cross section of cover tunes and original compositions, opening with the rollicking "Hold On I," "The Devil's Real" and "Link of Chain." Smither slows things down to introduce "No Love Today," perhaps one of his most poignant and amusing autobiographical dirges about growing up in New Orleans.

Smither fans will be pleased to know that some of his greatest recent tunes are very much in evidence, including "Small Revelations," "Up On The Lowdown" and "Can't Shake These Blues." And his cover of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" is nothing short of amazing.

Closing the album, and one of the high points of Live As I'll Ever Be, is a heart-wrenching version of Rolly Sally's "Killin' The Blues." Smither adopts this great blues narrative as his own, turning out an emotive, dramatic performance of the song that can send chills up one's spine. If you've never had the fortune to see Chris Smither execute this song live, listening to him do it on this record is like having a front row seat at your favorite concert room. Indeed, throughout the entire record, the sound quality is superb, even better in fact than on some live studio albums I have heard.

Says Smither of his new live album: "This just brings everything I do all together with no additives, sweeteners or artificial ingredients." Indeed, there is little doubt that Chris Smither's Live As I'll Ever Be is good for what ails you. Musically speaking, that is.

[ by Ralph DiGennaro ]



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