By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Sep 22, 2003 at 5:18 AM

Critics and fans of Chris Smither have declared his latest album, "Train Home," his best to date, and the modest, down-to-earth singer/songwriter nods in agreement.

"I can listen to the whole record and there's not one track that I cringe on," he says with an easy laugh. "That might even be a first for me."

The 11-track album is Smither's 11th release and boasts seven original songs and four covers, including Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" that features the back-up vocals of longtime friend Bonnie Raitt.

A Bostonian of 30 years who grew up in New Orleans and Paris, Smither's music is -- not surprisingly -- a mix of multiple genres, predominantly American roots, folk and blues. His finger-style guitar playing is undeniably skilled and steady, but serves more as a backdrop to his dreamy-yet-gritty voice and insightful lyrics.

Smither refers to writing lyrics as "the real work" involved in his music and credits not only songwriters like Paul Simon and Randy Newman as inspirations, but also poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot. Smither also speaks three languages, including French and Spanish.

Smither, who is 59, says the aging process is bittersweet and musically, a mixed blessing. "The highs and lows aren't as high and low, but I have a lot more consistency and a lot more confidence," he says. "When I was younger ... it's like I used to pull the pin on an emotional grenade -- and sometimes it got messy -- but now, it's not like that anymore."

Over the years, Smither has toured with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Nanci Griffith and the successful "Monsters of Folk" tour with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Dave Alvin and Tom Russell. He made a big impact in Milwaukee a few years ago when he opened for Shelby Lynne at a World Cafe Show at The Pabst Theater. He recognizes the importance of staying in the public eye, and is currently on tour until the middle of December.

Smither also feels pressure, not from the industry but from within himself, to produce an album about once a year or so. "I really feel that I should put out a record between 20 months and two years so people don't start to wonder what happened to me," he says, with another easy laugh.

Smither has played in Milwaukee numerous times, partly because it's a good excuse to spend time with friend and fellow singer songwriter Peter Mulvey, and he plans to perform this week. "I love to play out," he says. "I especially like to play out when I have a bunch of new stuff. And, I've gotten good at it."

Chris Smither will perform at Gil's Café, 2608 N. Downer Ave., on Wed., Sept. 24. Call (414) 964-4455 for more information.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.