Live As I'll Ever Be
HighTone Records / HMG
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Derived from Lightnin' Hopkins' distinctive acoustic guitar style that sounds like two guitars playing at the same time, Smither's blues-drenched songs have received heaps of critical praise. His songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris and old friend Bonnie Raitt (who calls him "my Eric Clapton"), and have won him gold records.
Those who have seen him live know what a special experience his shows are. So, it is appropriate that he releases his second live album, the first since 1991's Another Way to Find You. Live was recorded over a four-year period in the U.S. and Ireland by Darlene Wilson (Catie Curtis, Patty Larkin, and Cry Cry Cry).
Live As I'll Ever Be captures 14 songs he's recorded on the four studio albums since the release of Another Way. And what an impressive line-up of albums that is: the award-winning Happier Blue (1993), Up On the Lowdown (1995), Small Revelations (1997), and Drive You Home Again (1999).
No Love Today hearkens back to a character from Smither's youth growing up in the South: a singing vegetable salesman who wanders the streets like the Good Humor man. Smither's vocals are haunting as the salesman proclaims to the lovelorn narrator, "I got bananas, watermelons, peaches by the pound. Sweet corn, melaton, more better than any town. I got okra, enough to choke you, beans of every kind. If hungry is what's eating you, I'll sell you peace of mind. But this ain't what you came to hear me say. But I hate to disappoint you. I got no love today."
Throughout the album, Smither is miked at the foot to capture his signature foot stomping that drives his songs, whether slow or fast. The hollow stomping sound gives urgency to The Devil's Real, or the fun romp Link of Chain, or the happy blues-stroll Help Me Now.
Besides his own compositions, two covers appear on Live: Robert Johnson's Dust My Broom and Rolly Sally's Killin' the Blues. Dust My Broom features Smither's growling vocals and trademark guitar style, breathing new life into the blues classic. Killin' The Blues, on the other hand, is a quietly picked piece which closes the album.
The shows were recorded direct to ADAT, each sound source (vocal, guitar, feet, audience mics) on its own track. Despite the ambient sounds that may have been present, Live is an exceptional quality recording, making Smither's vocals even more haunting on such songs as No Love Today and The Devil's Real. Kudos to Wilson for achieving such sonic fidelity! Live is a great album that stands up to repeated listenings, and is highly recommended.
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz