In the early '70s, Chris Smither had an album out and was selling his songs to the likes of Bonnie Raitt. Last night at the Cellar Door, Smither introduced "Love You Like a Man" (which Raitt recorded) by saying, "I wrote this when I was very young. Now I play it as a nostalgia piece, as a reminder of days when I was cocksure."
Fame has eluded Smither. It's a shame, for his show provided as much pleasure and emotion as one can expect from any solo singer-songwriter.
Like Willie Nelson and David Bromberg Smither compensates for a limited voice with charming, intuitive understatement.Smither's compositions have a timeless succinctness of phrase and melody that allowed them to fit easily among his covers of songs by Fred Neil, Randy Newman, Willie McTell and others.
Smither managed to turn "High Heeled Sneakers" into an intimate blues. His romantic ballads like "This Man Never Needs Nothing" offered poignancy but no easy solution. His talking blues like "Travelin' Man" featured a dry, rural wit.
Opening the show was the Rochester acoustic blues duo of John Mooney and Bob Cooper. Mooney sang with a broad mixture of sly humor and high style. Mooney strummed his ancient guitar furiously as Cooper rattled notes out of every piano octave. Each old blues tune built to a feverish pitch.
Smither, Mooney and Cooper return to the Cellar Door tonight.