Chris Smither's two songs on the new "Bonnie Raitt Collection" have given him a small corner of the national spotlight, which has too long avoided this fine singer-songwriter from Boston. As he proved at the Birchmere last night, Smither is still a marvelous guitarist and singer 16 years after Raitt recorded "Love Me Like a Man" and "I Feel the Same," and he has written a sack full of songs at least as good as those two.
Cradling a phosphorescent blue guitar in his lap, Smither effortlessly played the kind of quicksilver rural blues licks associated with Ry Cooder and David Bromberg. Smither unveiled a couple of delightful new songs and revived old compositions like "99 Year Blues" and "Don't It Drag On," which deserve to be much better known. He also sang other people's songs -- everything from Lowell George's "Rock and Roll Doctor" to John Hiatt's "Memphis in the Meantime" -- using his sleepy, disarming voice and sliding guitar phrases to turn them all into timeless country blues.
Following Smither was fellow Massachusetts singer-songwriter Bill Morrissey, whose deadpan delivery and sharply observed lyrics recalled John Prine. Strumming simple, sturdy acoustic guitar chords, Morrissey sang poignant songs about homesickness and romantic loss as well as comic songs about cars and a pretty girl old enough to know "the names of all four Beatles." Just as entertaining were his between-song tall tales about his travels and his career.