Chris Smither is a folk legend who's finally stepping into the mainstream, and he's revealing that there are more sides to his musical personality than a lot of his old admirers ever knew. Smither is the wry, bluesy philosopher who penned "Love Me Like a Man" for Bonnie Raitt. His gutsy guitar style combines the multifingered dexterity of the Piedmont masters with a brooding intensity often associated with the Delta tradition. But what sets him apart from others like him is his lyrical ability, especially on ballads and other nonblues folk material. Smither combines images like he puts together notes--his lyrics might be called kaleidoscopic, except that this would miss the point: rather than creating a rash of colliding colors and imagery, he fuses both lyrical and musical dexterity with an uncanny instinct for empty spaces that allows the ideas' clarity to shine. Meanwhile his musical flights of fancy are simultaneously intense and imbued with a sparseness that irresistibly draws in the listener. Smither is a major unheralded talent, and this rare Chicago appearance is not to be missed. Thursday, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tobey.