Chris Smither is at an age where his legacy looms larger than ever. It’s almost startling to realize his new album comes with the distinction of being a 50-year retrospective. Anyone who has seen him perform live recently knows that Smither wears his 69 years as a badge of hard-won honor. He practically makes more sense as an elder statesman of folk-blues.
Recorded last year in his native New Orleans, the new double-disc “Still on the Levee” surveys Smither’s discography, but not as a traditional best-of compilation. With a supporting cast of like-minded musicians, Smither reinterprets 24 of his songs going back to his 1970 debut, “I’m a Stranger Too!” He was a young pup then, living hard and fast and earning the right to sing the blues.
“Devil Got Your Man,” the first song Smither ever wrote, introduces the collection with a warm, lived-in resonance. Smither, who moved from Arlington to Amherst a few years ago, relays these new versions with a resilience and wisdom that can come only from experience. (This album, by the way, precedes a forthcoming tribute to Smither, “Link of Chain,” featuring covers by Bonnie Raitt and Josh Ritter, among others, scheduled for September. Smither also recently released “Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012,” available at www.smither.com.)
With stomp and swagger, his update on “Love You Like a Man” is worlds removed from the slow-burning version Raitt made famous (as “Love Me Like a Man”). New Orleans piano man Allen Toussaint tickles the keys on “Train Home” and a particularly swinging rendition of “No Love Today.” Rusty Belle, a rootsy trio out of Western Massachusetts, back him on a handful of songs, including a delicate two different versions of “Leave the Light On.”
With longtime producer David “Goody” Goodrich at the helm, “Still on the Levee” frames Smither as what he always has been: a timeless singer and songwriter no matter his age. (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “No Love Today”
Chris Smither performs at Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro on Aug. 12.