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Michael Smith - Love Letter on a Fish: Live at Tales from the Tavern Too

Love Letter on a Fish:
Live at Tales from the Tavern Too

Michael Smith

Available from Artists of Note.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

That Jimmy Buffett, Steve Goodman, Jerry Jeff Walker, and a host others have taken to Smith's songs is shown in the many covers rendered of his marvelous, ironic, imagistic, and oft hilarious music and lyrics. Here, we get water from the well—live, solo, and in fine fettle. Dead Egyptian Blues (Mr. Tut) starts the disc off with mirth and a guffaw, but the second selection "Rondi's Birthday" is undercut with a gentle repeating guitar figure that instantly draws the listener from high emotion to reverie and wistfulness with nary a jar or flutter.

Between every so many songs (19 tracks in total, including the 0:16 intro), Smith delivers a spoken observance that's inevitably funny and very cool. For one, he met Roy Rogers, but the monologue on that incident is not exactly what one might expect, given tradition. On the Rogers tribute song Palomino Pal, he even gets the audience to contribute backing vocals and it at first works beautifully…until purposely and subtly crossed up.

There's more than a little Warren Zevon in Michael Smith, as cuts like Panther in Michigan show, so much so that not only the words but the melodic approaches are similar. "Barbara Dodd" has huge affinities with my favorite modern folker, JP Jones (reviewed here), and if Pink Floyd's Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict is one of music's bizarre titles, then Smith's Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees may well fall into second place.

Smith is a genuine folkie but, as a guy in or just before the Baby Boom generation (he was born in 1941), is also one of those who provided the nexal point for the modern forms, the sort of transitional musician that sprang up after Dylan turned electric, signalling permission to not endlessly repeat madrigal or Mitch Miller. Smith is rebellious and didn't need the okay, but that's where his time slot placed him. Had Dylan never been born, he'd have done what he's been doing for so long anyway. Rolling Stone has called the guy "The greatest songwriter in the English language". Make what you will of the Stone or the accolade, it cannot be argued that Smith's presence has been highly affective—16-plus releases well attest to that.

Tavern Too, a second live offering from the same locale as the first, is a great document of the lone troubadour tradition enshrined with all it's warm flaws, huge heart, impressive composing talents, and unique vibe. As modernity kicks into overdrive under uber-capitalistic depredations, discs like this serve to engrave the style into the frontal lobes and then pull counterpoints from the much more important recesses of memory, reminding us what we're being robbed of as music…evolves…under corporate guidance.

Track List:

  • Intro
  • Dead Egyptian Blues (Mr. Tut)
  • Rondi's Birthday
  • Tom Mix Blues
  • Story About Meeting Roy Rogers
  • Palomino Pal
  • Spoon River
  • Comments on Planning a Set List
  • Barbara Dodd
  • Panther in Michigan
  • Vampire
  • Tom Dundee
  • We Became Birds
  • Remarks About Wroks for the Theater
  • Lve Letter on a Fish
  • Song Intro re: The Giant and the Bees
  • Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees, Bees
  • Crazy Mary (from Londonderry)
  • Teenage Heaven
All songs written by Michael Peter Smith.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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