Some artists continually reinvent themselves; others identify their muse early on and spend their careers single-mindedly pursuing it, remaining recognizably themselves through a career-long process of refinement, growth and discovery. Chris Smither belongs to the latter group. He will be performing as part of the Folkus Project concert series at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15 at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church, 3800 East Genesee Street, Syracuse. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and refreshments will be available.
Often thought of as a blues artist, Smither is a singer-songwriter who draws deeply from the Mississippi Delta, American folk music, Texas swing, and urban ballads to create songs that are weathered, unhurried, and genuinely passionate.
His songs are literate and emotionally persuasive, defined by bright, intricate guitar work and driving foot stomps. His guitar picking harkens back to those early influences of Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Fred McDowell, and Mance Lipscomb while still remaining his own.
Smither has made his reputation by transforming blues roots into modern-day songwriting craft and he continues this on his masterful 12th album, Leave the Light On. Released in September, it stands as the quintessence of his life's work while throwing in some new wrinkles that reflect where he's been and what he's encountered since the last time around. Full of irony and poignancy, this collection of songs showcases Smither at what may be the pinnacle of his career. Continuing his tradition of incorporating songs by other artists, the new album includes covers of artists including Peter Case, Bob Dylan, and Hurt, in addition to his own powerful material.
Smither has made outstanding music since he emigrated north from his native New Orleans as a teenager at the tail end of the 1960s folk revival. In college, Lightnin' Hopkins and the blues seemed to get more attention than his major, anthropology, leading to him getting the boot during his year of study abroad. After returning to the states, he settled in Cambridge. The move was shortly followed by an appearance at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and his first album, I'm A Stranger Too, in 1970.