Now is all there is

Smither’s music feels its fullest at its least adorned — that guitar, that voice, those songs, those feet. He’s not one to be missed live.

Eric Clapton? You can have him. Give me Chris Smither any day.

Admittedly Smither — of Slowhand’s generation — doesn’t have the supergroup resume, the Britishness or the naked pre-teen-girl album cover. For that matter, he never ran off with George Harrison’s wife. And it’s doubtful whether anyone has asserted the Boston-area-based singer/songwriter’s divinity in spray paint on London subway walls.

But it’s about time somebody did.

Smither’s music, slow-simmered in country blues and marinated in his own eventful life, wears its dapper cool without apology or affect. His potent original songs — and the covers he so fully inhabits — feel at once immediate and timeless.

His singing, too, seems effortless, casually authentic and American in the most egalitarian sense, as if Smither’s weathered, fireside-warm voice had just been skimmed from the oily skin atop some steaming Atchafalaya Basin mudbug boil.

And, yes, he plays the living hell out of a guitar. No flash, no fury — just rarefied rolls of round, single-note complexity that amble atop palpable grooves, wowing you by doing the honest bidding of typically outstanding songs. Smither is lightning without the superfluous thunder, the subsumed boom seeping through in his hypnotic, foot-tapped accompaniment.

Confidence man

Smither’s music feels its fullest at its least adorned — that guitar, that voice, those songs, those feet. He’s not one to be missed live.

“Understatement is more powerful,” he noted by phone recently. “It’s what I’m drawn to.”

To be more specific, it’s what he is.

“I look for intimacy of contact,” he continues. “I try in my performances — and on the records as well — to put myself in the listener’s lap.”

Live, his relaxed demeanor and casual confidence are infectious. He typically shows up toting just one guitar, which he never seems to tune. And he gives his audience so much more than just the time of day.

“I try to talk to them earnestly” — here he laughs, a sound as warm and easy as his singing — “in a low but distinct voice.”

He lets himself confide in them, he says.

“I don’t think of myself as being up on a stage, or on a different level,” Smither continues. “A performance is a cooperative effort between the audience and the performer. And I’ve been doing this for 40 years — it takes a long time to learn that it’s not an adversarial relationship.

“The audience wants you to be good, and they want to like you. You don’t have to prove anything to them; all they want is reassurance that they’re in good hands. And once you give it to them, they’ll abandon themselves to you completely.”

The color of his blues

I have a confession to make, and it’s neither big-hearted nor politically correct: I hate most white blues players.

“Good thing,” hazards Smither, “that I’m not a blues player.”

And yet:

• Smither grew up in New Orleans, the cradle of the blues, hearing the morning fruit vendors singing out “mirliton,” “ba-na-na” and “peaches by the pound.”

• He’s got a song about Old Scratch his own self (“The devil ain’t a legend, the devil’s real,” it begins).

• He’s openly smitten with blues-guitar legends Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Skip James.

• He spent about a decade burning down his own life with alcohol.

• Plus, he does a smokin’ version of the Robert Johnson standard “Dust My Broom.”

A blue rose by any other name?

When people call him a blues guy, Smither gives them roughly the same line as when they brand him a Buddhist: “I wouldn’t call myself a blues player, but I do a lot of things that blues guys do.”

In actuality, Smither is a blend of folk-music worlds, steeped as much in the guitar-toting-balladeer school of Bob Dylan (check out Smither’s reading of “Desolation Row” on Train Home) and youthful hero and current fan Eric von Schmidt. (In 1965, Smither showed up on von Schmidt’s Florida doorstep — an uninvited, guitar-toting, advice-seeking stranger. Von Schmidt told his disciple to head north, to New York City or Cambridge, Mass. And Smither went.)

And yet he’s never strayed more than a big nine inches from the blues’ muddy little, er, heart (his Train Home version of Hurt’s “Candy Man” is, by the way, blushingly delicious).

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