Chris Smithers at the Twice Told

By Victoria Moon

I had first seen Chris Smithers in 1993 at the Bridgeton Folk Festival in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and was immediately impressed with this singer-songwriter with the too-cool blue guitar and raspy voice perfectly suited to the blues he favors. Smithers stood out as an artist who deserved attention even among such legendary talents as Iris DeMent and Richard Thompson, and so I went to Twice Told Coffeehouse on April 15 expecting to spend a couple hours in the presence of a truly gifted acoustic artist.

I was not disappointed.

Twice Told, as I have said in another article, is quite possibly the best place in Louisville to see acoustic artists. Rick Towles has done a wonderful job of turning the coffeehouse's small back room into a cozy, atmospheric venue that lends itself to intimate, relaxed concerts. Smithers was a great fit for a venue like this and provided an entertaining two hours' worth of blues and folk for a very appreciative full house. Smithers is an understated artist, almost unassuming, until he picks up his guitar and starts to play. From that moment, Smithers controls a room; knocking out blues riffs and sweetly dissonant chords that seem effortless. Starting the show with a classic blues sound, he moved to songs from his earlier release, -Happier Blue-, covers by artists like John Hiatt and blues master Robert Johnson and a few songs from his newest release, -Small Revelations-. Smithers is not only a great blues/folk guitarist but a witty lyricist and insightful songwriter as well, often dwelling on the introspective--even dark--aspects of life and relationships; in fact, Smithers confessed that a friend of his once said "There's nothing like a Chris Smithers song to make me long for a warm bath and a razor blade." But Smithers has a sense of humor, too, that came out not only in songs like "Winsome Smile" and "Happier Blue", but in his conversation and stories between songs. Smithers' stories allow the audience into the world of a songwriter and the processes of writing songs with a storyteller's sense of timing and refreshing twists of dry, black wit.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the evening was his beautiful cover of "Killing the Blues", one of my all-time favorite songs. Keeping time with his feet (which were micked to add a percussive element to the evening) and visibly lost in the song, his performance gave me chills.

Since Twice Told started bringing in such nationally-respected acts like the Kennedys, Adrian Legg, the V-Roys and others, Louisville's music scene has seemed to gain a new lease on life. Here's hoping that the trend continues for a long, long time, and artists like Smithers will be back again to remind us all of the possibilities of music in the hands of those who know and perform it best.