Top Fifty 24: Chris Smither – I’m A Stranger Too/Don’t It Drag On, 1971 and ’72

[Originally posted August 2011]


I’m sure I’ve said and done this before, but I’m going to cheat because I can. This top fifty selection is a two-fer of Chris Smither’s debut and second albums, brought out respectively in 1970 and 1971. They are both excellent – some of the finest songwriting and performance of the time and genre. I genuinely could not choose between them so this combo gets me out of a fix I don’t have to suffer.

Of interest too, I hope, is that I have only discovered Chris Smither in very recent years. If I had heard and possessed these albums in the early 70s I know they would be as precious as my John Martyn albums/music of the time. Smither is a brilliant guitarist, and his more recent work is predominantly blues based. These early albums are mainly folk songs, with beautiful ballads. Smither’s voice today is a distinctive baritone; in the early 70s it was a higher register with an emotive, natural warble that is much more gentle and appropriate to the folk melodies.

Of course I have made a compilation of the ballads from both albums that I particularly like. What is again interesting is that some of these melodies are so achingly plaintive in their beauty, musically and lyrically, that they have an impact on me now that I would normally only get from those songs that I have grown up and lived with for years. That is their genuine power. A track like Devil Got Your Woman from I’m A Stranger Too is a good example. This is followed on that album by Homunculus which is even more of a lament, and has echoes of Bert Jansch’s early work for a reference point. Other songs in this gentler vein are A Short Song For Susan, Neil Young’s I Am A Child, Love You Like A Man, Skip James’ Look Down The Road, and the gorgeous Time To Go Home.

The second album offers up similar gems: Lonesome Georgia Brown with slide guitar; the simple acoustic and vocal of I’ve Got Mine; the brilliant blues of Another Way To Find You; a piano addition in Jagger/Richards’ No Expectations; title track Don’t It Drag On with more piano and bass; the exquisite and sad Every Mother’s Son [lyric at end], and the final track I Feel The Same. Background vocalists on this album include Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur.

There are more bluesy/rock tracks [I have focused on my softer, ‘pretty’ favourites here]. From Don’t It Drag On there are two good representatives of this other offering to mention, both with the Smither vocal sounding like Michael Chapman from Family, and a more dynamic example of the warble I have already mentioned: Bob Dylan’s Down In The Flood, and the classic Willie McTell Statesboro Blues. There are self-penned examples too on both albums.

As I have typed this I have listened to both albums and it has been wonderful. Again, as I’ve said before, I have the time and this is why I do what I do here.

Every Mother’s Son

I speak to you. I think you’ll
Understand. You know you’ve
Made your son Joseph
A dangerous man.
He’s gone to town, he’s bought himself a gun.
This could happen to every mother’s son.

I spoke to Joseph.
His time has come.
“Vengeance is mine,” he said.
“Come join the fun.”
He looked more like a Judas on the run.
This could happen to every mother’s son.

Since I spoke to Joseph he’s
Gone into town. He killed
Six strong men ‘fore they
Shot him down.
I hate to think it’s only just begun.
This could happen to every mother’s son.

Something to tell you I
Think you should know.
You think too fast and you
Love too slow, you know.
You needn’t feel you’re the only one.
This could happen to every mother’s son.

1 thought on “Top Fifty 24: Chris Smither – I’m A Stranger Too/Don’t It Drag On, 1971 and ’72

  1. Pingback: Top Fifty 44: Steve Tilston – Songs From The Dress Rehearsal, 1977 | mikeandenglish

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