By Tony Attwood
It is Christmas Day in the UK – the biggest holiday of the year. And so I thought I would do something different. I wasn’t sure what but then Jochen and I were having one of our occasional email exchanges (we live in different countries as I have mentioned before) and he reminded me that he had already reminded me that I should be mentioned Chris Smither’s covers. (People reminding me that I have already been reminded is becoming quite a part of my life these days).
And so rather than drop Chris Smither’s songs into the articles in A Dylan Cover A Day, I thought I’d do this terrific musician the honour of a special for himself – which he most certainly deserves. If you want to know about this extraordinary performer there is a Wiki page on him of course, and of course he has his own website
So what is he doing? Well, most obviously he’s using open tuning on the guitar, which I am not sure Bob does very much if at all (forgive me I’ve never checked – I just can’t recall where Bob does this. Do tell if you’ve spotted it). If you are not familiar with the way guitarists like to get more out of their guitar, there is a standard set up for the tuning of guitar strings (E A D G B E – going from the lowest to the highest) but there is nothing to stop anyone changing the tuning.
The most popular alternative tunings gives a chord of D or G when the open strings are played, but others are possible. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that if one then plays some of the chord fingerings from the standard tuning, while the guitar is tuned in an alternative way, all sorts of interesting and unusual chords emerge. It is an approach that has inspired many a performer looking for a way of giving the guitar a new sound, and of playing some chords one has not used before.
And if that did not move you enough try this
Already you should have a feel for what this musician is doing – and I really have not heard this sort of approach to Dylan before. OK maybe there are others out there, but I live in rural Northamptonshire, and the local folk are still discussing the notion of introducing this new fangled postal service idea to the area, so news from elsewhere is a little slow.
This third example of his work again works in the same way – it is one that Jochen particularly reminded me of this morning, and indeed it is one that was used to illustrate a point in one of Larry’s articles, as well as in Jochen’s article “It takes a lot to laugh it takes “Chris Smither to make me cry”
Now there may be Dylan songs performed by Chris Smither but I haven’t found any yet. However I have now diverted onto Spotify, and if you have a Spotify account do type in Chris Smither’s name and start playing. From the very first track on the page dedicated to his music “Leave the light on” your life is likely to be changed – believe me it really is.
But in case you haven’t got a Spotify account here’s some more…
Chris clearly has his own style, but he retains the essence of Bob’s music and then merges the two so we get a new insight into each song. Here all the atmosphere is created by the opening tuning and the constant pulse which I imagine is a foot tap.
His changes to the music itself are not profound – it is the sound that is different and which gives us different insights…
He does occasionally venture elsewhere but after listening to all the songs above, and quite a few more in the Spotify collection, I wasn’t really for this…
I think I’m going to have to come back to this later to try and take it in fully. But I think first I am going to play “What was it you wanted” again. I do hope Bob has heard this. And maybe sent Chris a postcard of appreciation.
Anyway, there it is. There is also a lot more of Chris Smither on Second Hand Songs although no more Dylan covers. And if you have worked your way through those records above, I hope you have enjoyed something therein.
What with it being Christmas I’m visiting my children and grandchildren just now, so the timing of posting articles maybe slightly out for a couple of days (it depends if my grandchildren will allow me onto the internet while I’m visiting… “Oh Granddad I’m on line and you’re slowing the connection down” says the five year old) but one way or another I’ll be back soon.
Happy Christmas everyone, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. And thank you for reading Untold Dylan. Without you, it wouldn’t mean a thing.