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Ear to the Ground: Chris Smither’s “Link of Chain”

To celebrate a lifetime of music, the Boston folk-blues luminary recruits like-minded friends to help out with two volumes featuring new versions of old favorites.

It would be weird for Boston folk-blues luminary Chris Smither to put out a greatest-hits compilation, because anyone familiar with the man’s breadth of solo recordings—which go all the way back to 1970’s I’m a Stranger Too!—understands that his music is too good for commercial radio. Even his best-known songs, “I Feel the Same” and “Love You Like a Man,” are best known because Bonnie Raitt covered them. But Smither’s new album, Still on the Levee, is nothing like a best-of compilation: Rather than make a mix of past recordings, he gathered some of his favorite musicians and friends to accompany him while re-recording gems from his back pages.

Having cut his teeth in New Orleans before relocating to Massachusetts, Smither naturally recruited got Allen Toussaint to tickle the ivories on “Train Home” and a noticeably more bouncy version of “No Love Today.” And Amherst trio Rusty Belle also joins in on the fun, most noticeably on a take of “Link of Chain” that’s rife with the festive vibe of friends playing a front-porch jam somewhere in the Deep South—Smither even sets the song’s tempo with the heel of his boot.

This video promoting Still on the Levee is raw and live—Smither says it was captured on the third take. His voice croons over a sweet blend of acoustic guitar boogie, junkyard percussion, and tube-warmed electric riffs, sometimes sounding like J.J. Cale’s next of kin. But when Rusty Belle’s Kate Lorenz adds in her silky vocal harmonies, the front-porch ditty blossoms into a song both as timeless as the hills and fresh as the wild daisies.