Blues, Raags and Hollers, Solo Sets at the Coniferous Café by Arvid Smith

Review by Bill Ectric

Musician Arvid Smith delivered an evening of spellbinding guitar and singing at the Coniferous Café Friday night in Downtown Jacksonville. Smith’s performance was somehow both rustic and state-of-the-art. He launches into a dazzling fingerpicking style on acoustic guitar, and at some point in the song, records a few bars of the rhythm on a tape-loop machine, then accompanies himself on lead guitar, incorporating everything from Clapton’s famous “crying lady” tone to rich psychedelic excursions. For example, Smith performed Roger McGuinn’s voodoo witch doctor song “Lover of the Bayou,” steering the guitar break through a scenic route of swamps, cabins, and lightning, and bringing the audience along for the ride.

The name of this event, Blues, Raags, and Hollers, is a play on the title of a 1963 album by Koerner, Ray, and Glover called Blues, Rags, and Hollers. “Blues” probably needs no explanation. “Rag” refers to ragtime music, but Smith changed it to “Raag,” an alternate spelling of raga, a style of music from India. Smith actually played a sitar during the show, although he says, “I really don’t have the skills to properly approach performing a raga because I am not a trained Indian Classical musician. I do know some Raga scales and phrases and the sitar is built to play them, so I feel articulate enough working them into other music as much as I feel right to play blues.” The sitar fit in beautifully with the more traditional American compositions. “Hollers” refers to the old call and response “field hollers” sung by southern laborers, field hands, chain gangs, and slaves, by which the workers could communicate with each other down the line, and also, to vent their feelings.

On this night, while he doesn’t always do so, Smith regaled the audience with brief but fun stories about the origins of some of the songs, discovering lost classics on the B sides of old 45 RPM records, or the night he sat and talked with Dr. John the Night Tripper when he was one of Dr. John’s opening acts.

Arvid Smith is a rock & roller at heart and it shows in the energetic chord delivery, lead guitar lines, and yes, even in his complex fingerpicking. Smith can often be seen and heard as a sideman in a number of bands, not only in Jacksonville, but across the United States and even in France. It is a rare treat to see the man performing solo. He holds his own and then some.