Sammi Smith: ‘Looks Like Stormy Weather 1969-1975’

❉ Compiled by Ace Records and Bob Stanley, this is a rich collection with many stand-out tracks.

Sammi Smith (Ace Records).

Following on from his excellent compilations of last year Choctaw Ridge and Norman Whitfield -Psychedelic Soul this new disc on Ace curated by Bob Stanley is a collection of twenty-four tracks by Grammy award winning country star Sammi Smith.

A big star in the Billboard Hot Country singles chart (despite never really troubling the US or UK main charts) Smith was the first person to cover Kris Kristofferson’s Help Me Make It Through The Night , which appears in this collection. Originally signed to the Columbia label for a short time, this album predominantly covers her work on the Mega record label which she signed with in 1970 and for which she was their biggest selling artist. The collection does however include a track released on Columbia (the excellent upbeat Brownville Lumberyard) and two later 1980 released tracks –  covers of Texas 1947 and Desperado’s Waiting For A Train written by singer songwriter Guy Clark.

‘Looks Like Stormy Weather 1969-1975’  (CDTOP 1602)

Looks Like Stormy Weather is a rich collection with many stand out tracks. The haunting Saunders’ Ferry Lane appeared on Bob’s previous Ace compilation Choctaw Ridge and is one of three tracks written by Janette Tooley to appear on the collection. This evocation of a frozen, deserted and decaying place is a beautiful song and, as Bob says in the excellent booklet that comes with the record, this song should really have been a big hit.

I Was Just Fifteen is heartbreaking and sounds as if it may be autobiographical, although it was in fact written by Roland Bennet and the brilliantly-named Even Stevens.  Then You Walk In which was the follow up to Help Me Make It Through The Night has an introduction and a chorus that reminds me slightly of Fairport Convention’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes. There are three songs on the collection penned by Smith herself – the beautifully arranged Jimmy’s in Georgia, Sunshine and He Makes It Hard To Say Goodbye.

Her voice is warm and impressive on the track The Toast of 45, a bar-room fable with lyrics such a “Harry named this drink for me”. This Room For Rent and Jimmy’s in Georgia are also great songs talking of loss and regret after a break up -”but Jimmy’s in Georgia and he took my summer away”. The sensual cover of another Kristofferson song I’ve Got To Have You is also impressive.

According to Bob Stanley’s excellent accompanying booklet, Smith had first dibs on a lot of Kristofferson songs after striking up a creative friendship.  She actually met him when he was working as a janitor. According to Bob Help Me Make It Through The Night had a title inspired by a Frank Sinatra interview that Kristofferson read after just having the opening line. The majority of the rest of the song was written whilst Kristofferson was working as a helicopter pilot.

There’s a fantastic cover of Johnny Cash’s Long Black Veil. Cash was again a friend of Smith’s and his bass player had originally discovered Smith after hearing a tape of her singing.  She was also friends with a couple of the new country or “outlaw-country” stars such as Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Her son Waylon Payne (who appeared in the Cash biopic Walk the Line as Jerry Lee Lewis) was in fact named after Jennings and according to Bob Stanley she was also open to the influence of the newer sound coming from people like Charlie Rich and Micky Newbury.

The only weak point in fact is a slightly stodgy cover of the older country figure Merle Haggard’s song Today I Started Loving You Again. The other tracks on the album however seem to point to an overlooked but impressive talent. Another impressive compilation from Bob Stanley and Ace.

❉ Sammi Smith: ‘Looks Like Stormy Weather 1969-1975’ is out now from Ace Records (CDTOP 1602), RRP £12.92 (CD). Click here to order:

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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