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Chris Smither's post-Bob Dylan sound has been well established and independently fine-tuned for many decades running, so it is no surprise that he has been able to do it by all by himself since his first days on the folk-blues scene. On Time Stands Still, he works with a trio, something he has rarely done, as he's joined by second guitarist, pianist, and producer David Goodrich and by drummer/percussionist Zak Trojano. You still hear the gritty and rough edge inspired by Dylan, but also a refined singing style that supersedes his primary influence, and that of another early gut-level blues/jazz pop pioneer, Tom Waits. Most of the songs are from Smither's pen, with traditional-type lyrics made current according to the social relevance of the difficult times we live in. In short, Chris Smither has never sounded better, especially on his lean-sounding guitar. He's more grounded, down to earth, and authentic in his attempt to keep his music very alive and well in troubled times. Genuine to the core, Smither sings the ramblin' blues "Don't Call Me Stranger" with utter conviction, similar to another real-deal blues king, Charlie Musselwhite. His ode to our financial woes, "Surprise, Surprise," tells the tale of our sorry state of affairs in relation to the bank failings and subsequent bailouts. On a more personal level, there's the folkish "I Don't Know," filled with jazz-like improv and counterpoint; the downhearted "Old Man Blues"; or the upbeat rocker "I Told You So," which reflects the ups and downs of remembrance tempered with wisdom -- and have a universal quality that anyone can relate to, even if they are so insular. Frank Hutchison's "Miner's Blues" is more specific, a great song of how life is not worth living when faced with the bleak prospect of returning to work in a dangerous, unhealthy environment. He does a solo version of Mark Knopfler's "Madame Geneva's" which is not so much a departure for Smither as a renewal of his self-made spirit, with a little debauchery thrown in. But his version of Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" is utterly without reproach, not only for the soul he injects into it and his complete knowledge of the subject lyrics, but in how sad blues can be terrifyingly devastating, and in the long run, conquerable. Smither goes solo for Mark Knopfler's folksy waltz "Madame Geneva's," a tale of the seedier side of life firmly sung in the Tom Waits style. Of his many great recordings over this years, Time Stands Still might very well be Chris Smither's magnum opus, a triumph over tragedy and tough times that should provide valuable lessons to anyone who has felt abject pain caused by family losses, the grind-to-a-halt recession, unemployment, and that helpless, depressed feeling everyone has experienced. It is uplifting -- a recording that you will relate to upon listening to for only a few minutes, but which you will savor all the way through.