Christopher Smith,
Gravedigger's Boy
(Small Time, 2007)

With their simple fiddle/accoustic guitar backing, some of the 12 original songs on Gravedigger's Boy may make older listeners think of Hamilton Camp's engaging early-'60s folk ("He Takes the Train" even name-checks the folk broadside Sing Out).

Smith sings in a clear, easygoing tenor. His uptempo songs, with a full band, are funny, ironic and laced with a sly wit. He explains the song "Home to Jesse" this way: "I always wanted to write a murder ballad. Took me a while to figure out who I wanted to murder." In the best folk tradition there's a nod to the bottle ("Makin' My Own") and a wink for all the pretty girls ("Pumpkintown"). Scam artists get their due in a tune called the "Michigan Roll."

When he gets serious, Smith's more subtle ballads are sweetly sung, bordering more on longing than sentiment. The title tune won Best New Song at the Mountain Stage Festival, and for good reason: "Gravedigger's Boy" is a knockout. Smith takes a step away from a simple folk song into real heartbreak territory without being saccharine: "As the partners take hands and glide 'cross the floor / He's got no one to dance with, he don't ask anymore." It's a hard trick, and Smith pulls it off well.

The album is nicely packaged and comes complete with a booklet and notes on the songs, which are as fun to read as the lyrics. This is Smith's fourth album, including two albums for "the six and under set" (making Smith possibly the coolest dad and kindergarten teacher in the San Francisco area.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Mark Bromberg

24 November 2007

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