Chris Smither 2024
Photo: Jo Chattman / Propeller Publicity

Chris Smither Knows It’s ‘All About the Bones’

Folkie Chris Smither always knew that nothing would last forever, but the passage of time showed him the importance of appreciating the good things in life.

All About the Bones
Chris Smither
Signature Sounds
3 May 2024

Chris Smither has always sounded like an old man, even as a young, up-and-coming singer-songwriter in the early 1970s. Much of this is due to his New Orleans roots, where people talk like they have a mouth full of molasses. There is a slowness in how one delivers one’s words, which implies a circumspect approach to how one lives. As such, Smither doesn’t sing as much as he drawls his words. His self-penned lyrics are full of wit and wisdom sung in epigrammatic phrases. Like the blues artists he grew up admiring (Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins), he intones with an unhurried voice that suggests he’s letting you in on life’s secrets if you listen carefully.

Smither seemingly crooned with the wisdom of experience before he had any. Fifty years later, now that the musician is almost 80, he sounds his age. That adds authenticity to his performances. He explicitly sings about being near the end of his life in songs like “Completion” and “In the Bardo”. He’s not complaining. Life is a mystery, death even more so. As he notes on the title track, we all end up as a pile of bones. Perhaps his Crescent City roots add a voodoo sensibility to the lyrics. We may not know what’s coming next, but we all meet the same fate sooner or later. That gives meaning to the times we are out walking about the planet. Living in the present is its own reward.

The ten songs on All About the Bones remind us to let the good times roll. The world can be a wonderful place even when things are bad. If one has to give the devil its due, one must also believe in a higher spirit. Don Quixote was right. Mountains can move. We can find joy in each other’s company. There’s a joyous spirituality inherent in just existing that can be found in friendship and romance. One can hear this holy mysticism in the way Smither plays his guitar. The beat is uplifting. The strings offer evidence of something that cannot be proved or said in just words.  

Chris Smither’s pleasurable acoustic guitar playing is backed by David “Goody” Goodrich on electric guitar (and other assorted instruments), Zak Trojano’s solid drumming, Chris Cheek’s jazz saxophone intonations, and the dulcet tones of singer Betty Soo. It’s also worth noting that Smither’s feet are recorded, as he’s always keeping the beat. His voice, guitar, and feet are synced together for full effect.

All About the Bones also features two covers: Eliza Gilkyson‘s “Calm Before the Storm” and Tom Petty‘s “Time to Move On”. Gilkyson’s song celebrates the benefits of having a laid-back sensibility. Smither keeps things sweet and light, as befits the song. He provides evidence of the pleasures of being stress-free. The Petty track offers the opposite suggestion. Instead of resting, Petty tells us now is the moment to do something. Smither offers a spritely take. While the two songs may seem contradictory, Smither shows us how both life lessons can be true. The connection lies in our attitude. It befits a citizen of the Big Easy to tell us to take it easy whether we are moving on or staying put.

Chris Smither’s compositions preach the same lesson. He always knew that nothing would last forever, but the passage of time showed him the importance of appreciating the good things while they were here. After all, it’s the bones in his feet that make his toe-tapping heard and the ones in his fingers that play his guitar. His bones may one day be all that is left of him. He will make the most of them while he’s still around.

RATING 8 / 10