Hundred Dollar Valentine
[Signature Sounds (2012)]
Before rock music found a way to make listeners sad in novel ways, there was country and the blues. Chris Smither has been making quietly successful, powerful songs to make you wistful since 1970. Morrissey and countless Emo bands could learn a thing or two by listening to Smither’s entire catalog, and Hundred Dollar Valentine’s is as good a place as any to start. Here, he sings about life, loss, and regret just like he’s successfully done for the past 30 years.
Chris Smither doesn’t sing about a happy life, but that’s not really what he’s really about (the blues aren’t about sunshine, and country isn’t about happy relationships). Hundred Dollar Valentine is the embodiment of melancholia. Smither has sung about times gone by and regrets before now—see his previous thirteen albums—but there’s something about this particular one that cuts.
You might remember the 2006 album Leave the Light On. Here, he revisits the titular track and borrows his own melody and music for the fantastic track “What They Say”:
They say the good die young but it ain’t certain
I’ve been good all day
I ain’t hurt nothing anyway
I’m too old to die young
Chris Smither sees the end in sight and he’s not certain how he feels about it. He hasn’t hurt anyone, necessarily, but he hasn’t been a sweet little lamb. “Feeling by Degrees” explores the imminence of death and feelings of, not-quite ambivalence. There’s fear there and acceptance and every pluck of the guitar strings twinges your heart.
There’s a ton of artists out there that don’t make you feel anything, even if they’re good. But that’s what Smither excels at: You feel what he’s feeling (or what you think he’s feeling, anyway). He punches you in the face with pure emotion. This isn’t a trip where you come out smiling, but you’ve also never felt so good feeling so miserable.
There’s nothing new here [well, this is Smither’s first album of all originals; that’s pretty new -ed], but you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel was a pretty good invention, and Hundred Dollar Valentine is a damned good album.
—Michael B. Tager (Baltimore, MD)
p.s. Go here to listen: http://smither.com/music/hundred-dollar-valentine-2012/