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Working class folk hero

Chris Smithers 40 year career will be on display in Hillsboro


Chris Smither has passed a lot of stops on his musical journey over the last 40 years.

by: PHOTO COURTESY JEFF FASANO - Blues and folk songwriter Chris Smither will play the Walters Cultural Arts Center Friday, Nov. 16, bringing his expansive songbook to the stage.He sprung up in New Orleans, wandered into the Boston folk scene and dropped his first record in 1970 at the age of 26.

Now 68, Smither’s music is taking on a new life on the internet as inspiration for a new generation of musicians inspired by folk music.

It makes sense. Smither’s latest work, “Hundred Dollar Valentine,” picks up the threads of his career mixing fingerpicked blues, melodic folk and a painful loneliness undeniably American.

Smither will play the Walters Cultural Arts Center Friday, Nov. 16 as part of the tour promoting his latest work.

But it’s Smither’s earlier music that has caught light.

“I’ve Got Mine,” from Smither’s 1972 album “Don’t It Drag On” was covered by Avey Tare, one third of the experimental pop band Animal Collective and his ex-wife Kria Brekken. The video has more than 100,000 views on Youtube (Smither’s original has 5,209 views on the video sharing site) and drew a response from the band’s fans akin to “where did this come from?”

The answer? Chris Smither. The song, one of the highlights from Smither’s second platter has a wandering stop-start plod, the melody lilting along a gray sky while guitar thunders beneath. A mix of John Lennon’s 1970s detachment and a Donovan in a deep trance. And a sprinkle of Bob Dylan, of course.

The lyrics contemplate a moment between dread and defeat the challenge of temptation or the loss of innocence.

“Salvation comes for free, singing on the shadows, it widens and it narrows... I’ve got mine,” Smither sings. “If heaven were lined with gold, heaven would be bought and sold... hold on.”

Avey Tare isn’t the first to cover a Smither tune.

Bonnie Raitt recorded Smither’s “I Feel The Same,” from the same record.

Smither’s version of the song has a darkness about it with the repetitive guitar refrain playing counterpoint to Smither’s haunting baritone.

Raitt’s version amps the tune up, adds drums and gives her a stage to walk out the high notes.

A song’s ability to morph in the hands of different artists is proof of a certain universality. Smither’s best work, like his newest album, leaves the impression that these songs have always existed.

But Smither created them whole cloth.



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