Review of Chris Smither’s ‘Hundred Dollar Valentine’
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, June 8, 2012
“I’m too old to die young,” 67-year-old Chris Smither drawls on “What They Say,” the jaunty country blues he wrote for his 12th studio album, the new “Hundred Dollar Valentine.” He tried his best to die young in the late ’70s, having already written such classic songs as “Love Me Like a Man” and “I Feel the Same,” both recorded by Bonnie Raitt. But he didn’t, and he has used his survivor’s perspective to lend a remarkable depth to his career’s second act.
Smither has rerecorded two songs from his landmark 1972 album, “Don’t It Drag On,” for the new disc: “I Feel the Same” and “Every Mother’s Son.” Forty years later, there’s a new sense of fatefulness in the songs, as if the woman’s impending departure and the neighbor’s impending violence couldn’t be stopped. That added gravity also can be felt in the eight songs Smither wrote for this project. Even when he’s being funny, as on “Place in Line,” a self-mocking, ragtime blues about finding life’s answers (“You settle in to stay, then someone tells you, ‘Hey, this is a loading zone.’ ”), there are shadows behind every line.
Smither’s country-blues guitar picking sparkles on every number, usually supported by Morphine drummer Billy Conway and cellist Kris Delmhorst. Smither’s baritone can be as comforting as a wool blanket, but it usually contains a hidden barb. “It ain’t what it is that’s such a sin,” he croons with deceptive ease, “it’s what it might have been.”