I’m The Smile is Charlie Roth’s eighth album, which just goes to prove that great talent can reside under the radar for many of us until that artist is put in the right situation. This right situation for the native Minnesotan on I’m the Smile is collaborating with some of the best musicians in Texas – co-producer and multi-instrumentalist John Inmon (Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson) as well as producer, drummer and keyboardist Pat Manske. They, along with bassist Mike Morgan do most of the heavy lifting alongside Roth while Ray Bonneville, Lloyd Maines, Bill Kirchen, Redd Volkaert, Javier Chaparro, and Chis Gage, among others, appear on select tracks. With that group in tow, it’s hard to miss; and Roth, with his gentle, honest baritone voice and well-structured songs, thrives in this setting.
These are half originals and half cover songs, bookended by two different versions of the title track. In keeping with the title and Roth’s sincere belief that his mission is to make people happy; the songs mostly deliver uplifting messages. The covers are not well-known tunes but come from those that Roth has met over the years and/or shared the stage with. Ray Bonneville adds his signature harmonica to his tune “Good Times.” The honky-tonk rave-up “Pretty Little Lights of Town,” written by Steve Doer, features both titans of the Telecaster, Kirchen and Volkaert.
The centerpiece of the album may well be “Gloves,” the working man tale written by George Ensle and Chuck Hawthorne. As Roth sings about his dad, the pace and chord structure of the song is eerily reminiscent of Guy Clark’s classic, “The Randall Knife,” and it strikes similar emotions. Lloyd Maines’ dobro gives it just the right texture. Roth’s own “Serenity” offers advice and comfort to those who have had to make tough decisions. “Where You’ll Be” is an ode to his mother, written shortly after her death and his “My Chair” also speaks to comfort, being home with the one you love.
Roth’s perspective is captured in his statement on the inside jacket. “Some of these songs came from heaven or the spirit world. My mom died and now she travels with me…at least she does in the song I wrote her…I don’t claim to know these things for sure. My dad is in here too. He is very old now but will also live on. They will sing through me. I try to stay connected to them and to a bunch of other kind spirits that seem to come to visit me when I am in a good place. I am lucky to be able to play music for my living. I work very hard and I love my work. My parents showed me how to do that by example. They both passed on their gift to me, the music.”
Roth is clearly a family man, proud husband, father, and grandparent who owns a good-sized horse farm and facility in rural Minnesota. Like the true troubadour he is, Roth comes across at times like a wise sage passing on his hard-earned wisdom. His credibility is instant and infectious. Pull up a chair and listen.