LAND OF DOUBT
A Daring Approach From a Brilliant Songwriter Creates a Bold and Beautiful Record.
It’s a challenge for any singer or band with even a modicum of success to have to choose between recording the same songs but with different titles; or do they evolve and develop; making new music that may alienate their fan base.
Thankfully Sam Baker has taken the latter route over 5 albums in 13 years and a combination of masterful storytelling and a very distinctive voice have managed to bring in new fans with every record without ever losing the original fans.
Without reading the Press Release in advance the delightful semi-classical guitar which opens track #1 Summer Wind took me by surprise and then when Sam more narrates than sings the song I sat back with a puzzled expression on my face. The song is even slower than normal and includes a de-tuned (?) guitar and some sweet trumpet playing from Don Mitchell which sent a shiver down my spine. As soon as it finished I pressed ‘repeat’ and the penny immediately dropped; this wasn’t going to be a ‘normal’ album……in some ways it’s a conceptual piece; but by golly it’s staggeringly good!
Only a few songs here; Margaret and Say The Right Words for example, are ‘typical’ Sam Baker songs in as much as they are very literate, deeply personal stories; but even Say The Right Words has Mitchell performing like an Angel on the trumpet again towards the end.
Without spoiling anything for you several tracks are referred to as ‘interludes’ which left me baffled at first’ then halfway through I realised that these short orchestral pieces work perfectly; cleansing the mind ready for the next song.
A brave thing to do; but when Song of Sunrise Birds (interlude) bleeds into The Feast of St. Valentine you know you’re not listening to an ordinary record…….LAND OF DOUBT isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all.
With that in mind, Peace Out can only be described as poetry set to music, with Sam talking through the first voice and even his singing voice hardly picks up the pace; leaving me with a fluttering the stomach and a big smile as it ended.
As a Sam Baker fan of quite a few years I absolutely love this album and salute the man’s courage for trying something different; but the title of ‘favourite song’ must go to an actual ‘traditional’ folk song; but a song that is as good as anything this great songwriter has ever penned. Some Kind of Blue whizzes us back 40 odd years to the Vietnam War as Sam tells the story of “a quiet young man/too shy to get a date.” But young Charlie enlists and before he knows what is happening he is on a jet then “crawling in a tunnel/where the fallen Angels dwell.” The irony of the chorus “Charlie fighting Charlie” isn’t lost on the character nor will it audiences. Eventually Charlie returns home and marries; but……..”crawling through a tunnel/with a loaded .45/was the only time he felt alive.”
Sadly there are thousands of Charlie’s across the Western world feeling the same way 40 years later.
The title track; which closes the record is a singular radical change of mood, with Baker again taking on the role of narrator on a very atmospheric and even claustrophobic song which brings the whole album to a powerful conclusion and owes a debt to to the Beat Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. If I still had my radio show I would play it every single week for a month.
LAND OF DOUBT is quite a departure from what we expect from an Americana/Folk singer; but don’t worry (spoiler alert!) this album is truly exceptional and takes him into the musical territory I associate with Randy Newman, Tom Waits and even the likes of Nick Cave; and Sam Baker is there on Merit.
Released June 16th 2017