**This ‘Hear It First’ album is no longer available for streaming.**
Two songs into his new album Hundred Dollar Valentine, Chris Smither sings, “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” Considering his entire career, that seems about right.
It’s not so much an original sentiment for modern music, of course, but this is no expression of youthful angst and hubristic defiance. After all, this is Smither’s 15th studio album since he threw his hat into the ring back in 1970. Since then, he’s watched the landscape evolve and shift, bands come and go, moods change, and the wavelike interest of music fans in folk and the blues – his two remarkable specialties. Once again, he’s responded to it all with a collection of songs which take on a life of their own – from resignation through the storm clouds of worry, and back to hope again.
Hundred Dollar Valentine is full of hopeful songs about having a grip and contemplative tunes, worrying that grip might slip. No better place do all these sentiments collide than on “What They Say” – perhaps Smither’s finest moment on the disc. With an upbeat New Orleans-style energy and some rolling guitar grooves, he lights into the truth of it all. Considering the way motivation sometimes shifts, taking us toward some unexpected destination, he sings: “I didn’t want to change but the road kept sliding in a funny way / I kept riding on it anyway / sometimes you do what you gotta.”
He has a knack for tackling the hard in an easy way. He roots even his moodiest songs, like “Feeling By Degrees”, in a low, strong rhythm. . .like a heartbeat. Here, you can almost feel the ghost of Townes Van Zandt lurking somewhere between the toe tap and the dreamy violins. Indeed, he and Van Zandt share a common influence in the glory of Lightnin’ Hopkins, but Smithers has tended more toward the blues in previous efforts. Here, instead, he seems to lean more heavily in a story-song direction.
With four decades of great music under his belt, Smither certainly doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, but on Hundred Dollar Valentine, he proves something anyway: an old dog can not only learn new tricks, but he can master them too.