Josh Ritter, “Rosalie” from Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither (2014)

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Certainly, there are bigger names on this new tribute to underrated folk-bluesman Chris Smither — not least of which is Bonnie Raitt.

Aside from her emotional live version of “Love Me Like a Man,” Link of Chain: A Songwriters Tribute to Chris Smither — issued this week by Signature Sounds — also includes Loudon Wainwright III, Jorma Kaukonen and Peter Case with covers of “A Place in Line,” “Leave the Light On” and “Caveman,” respectively.

Yet, I kept coming back to Josh Ritter’s take on the darkly contemplative “Rosalie,” originally part of Smither’s 1984 album It Ain’t Easy. Recorded during a Dublin soundcheck last year, it eloquently captures the roiling current of regret that always ran just beneath this song’s pretty surface. Loose and direct, with campfire backing vocals courtesy of Josh Kaufman and Zack Hickman, Ritter’s update also reflects the sudden sense of catharsis that comes from realizations about the past.

It sounds as if he’s singing the words just as they come to him, animating Smither’s lyric in a whole new way — and that’s something tribute albums seem to strive for but so seldom actually achieve.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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