Various Artists

Link of Chain: A Songwriters' Tribute to Chris Smither

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Chris Smither has quietly been a force in the American folk and blues scene since the mid-'60s, when he began making a name for himself on the Massachusetts coffeehouse scene after leaving his hometown of New Orleans. While Smither is a gifted guitarist, he's made his greatest impact as a songwriter, penning literate but unpretentious tunes dealing with love, life, and the nature of the universe with unforced wit and wisdom. Smither's best-known tune is "Love You Like a Man," which has been a staple of Bonnie Raitt's live shows for years, but Raitt is hardly the only well-known and respected artist who is a Chris Smither fan, and Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither features Raitt and 14 other artists interpreting their favorite selections from his songbook. The old saying has it that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, and in this case, folks who don't know Smither's work ought to imagine he must be quite a guy, with Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Patty Larkin, Mary Gauthier, Josh Ritter, Jorma Kaukonen, and Tim O'Brien all on board and delivering his material with genuine enthusiasm and a keen eye toward his lyrics and his melodies. Given the diversity of the artist roster, it should come as no surprise that Link of Chain features a wealth of different styles and shows Smither's work can work effectively in many different ways -- the slow, lean blues of Raitt's live take of "Love Me Like a Man," the playful swing of O'Brien's "Origin of Species," the revved-up country boogie of Peter Mulvey's "Time to Spend," the intimate acoustic space of Case's "Caveman," and the slightly ragged joy of Wainwright's "Place in Line." The performers here, all of whom are songwriters in their own right, bring out the best in these songs, and Link of Chain is a tribute album that does a splendid job of showing what makes the artist in question special; if you've never checked out Chris Smither, Link of Chain will show you just what a master songwriter can do, and anyone with a taste for contemporary folk and singer/songwriters will find a lot to enjoy.

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