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Chris Smither
The Brokerage
Bellmore, NY
May 17, 2000

There comes a time in certain songwriters’ careers when they just hit their stride. They reach a peak where it all comes together—the writing, the music, the performances. And while there may be many more pinnacles to come, it is clear that at a particular point in time, the artist has never been better, his art never more clearly defined and articulated. Such is the case with Chris Smither, whom Jay Reilly regularly books at The Brokerage, a suburban venue in Bellmore, New York. One of the most venerable rooms for acoustic music, The Brokerage is, in many ways, Long Island’s answer to the Bottom Line in New York City. It has a similarly good sound system and seating arrangement, albeit on a smaller scale, a decidedly friendly wait staff and management and altogether friendlier prices. It is the perfect room for an artist such as Smither, whose intricate blues fingering and emotional performances are already the stuff of legend. Indeed, the New Orleans-born Smither has achieved a permanent lofty position in the hierarchy of singer-songwriters, so much so that whenever he takes a stage a bronze plaque should be placed at his feet commemorating his status as an established icon of American folk and blues. While Smither is almost always on tour, of late he is out to promote his soon-to-be-released live CD on Hightone Records aptly entitled "Live As I’ll Ever Be." Nearly ten years have passed since Smither’s last live record, but "Live As I’ll Ever Be" is one of the best compilations of live performances I have heard in a long time.

In his show at The Brokerage, Smither covered almost every cut on the new live record, which is comprised of old and new compositions. He ran through terrific, newly revised renditions of "Hold On I," "Link Of Chain," "Up On The Lowdown" and "Small Revelations"—his masterful guitar work, signature grimaces and stomping boot heels very much in evidence. He was in command of his stage show, chatting with the audience, making wry asides and providing entertaining introductions to special songs like "No Love Today," a poignant and amusing autobiographical dirge about growing up in New Orleans. For many in the audience, including this writer, the high point of the show was his heart-wrenching performance of Rolly Sally’s "Killin’ The Blues." Smither has adopted this great blues narrative as his own, turning out an emotive, dramatic performance that sent chills up the collective spines of the nearly sold-out house. His guitar playing was flawless the entire evening, and Smither proved beyond a doubt that he is one of the most original performers in the folk universe, and he is extremely pleased with the recognition he has so long deserved. If Chris Smither comes to your town any time soon, run, don’t walk to grab up a ticket or two. He’s as brilliant as he’ll ever be!
Opening for Smither was local multi-tasking musician Ken "The Rocket" Korb, whose musical abilities extend to everything from a custom washboard to the electric mandolin. But Korb’s true gift is his unique ability to blow blues harp with the best of them—particularly vintage blues—and Jay Reilly’s decision to have Korb open for Smither was a good one. Joining Korb on stage was Long Island blues guitarist Toby Walker who has come out of retirement to perform locally once again. He and Korb turned out a short set of terrific blues tunes. They were the perfect prelude to the wonders of Chris Smither. —Ralph DiGennaro

If you are a fan of Chris Smither you may be interested in ordering Issue 12 which includes a feature interview with Smither by Ralph DiGennaro.

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