More beautifully stark stories from Americana’s current finest wordsmith
I was first introduced to Sam Baker’s music five years ago by my only friend who likes Leonard Cohen and I will always be in that man’s debt.
Baker once survived a terrorist bomb blast on a train in South America and his survival and recovery has had a profound effect on his songwriting; which could be described as bleak and occasionally miserable; but if, like me you ‘get’ Leonard Cohen you are in for a rare, fond treat with this; his latest album.
The album opens with the delightful intertwining of a guitar and exquisite piano on the title track; Say Grace; which goes onto to tell the tale of a woman looking back on her life as she peers into the dressing table mirror and remembers a pretty girl who leaves home, gets a job with a boss who’s a creep, then falls in love with a boy; whom she runs away with; but it doesn’t last and before she knows it she has grey hair, memories and she falls asleep with the TV on.
The intimate detail that Baker squeezes into five minutes should put many more successful songwriters to shame.
His songs are all stories and often kitchen sink dramas about the people he’s met over the years; the people who most people don’t see; but the ones with the most interesting stories.
Just like Randy Newman or Tom Waits; few of Baker’s songs have melodies or choruses; and he has a voice that only a Mother could love; but when he can write and perform a song as subtle and personal as Road Crew you could forgive him anything.
On White Heat Sam takes a different route as he re-tells the end of Jimmy Cagney film of the same name and somehow manages to make it even more exciting than I remembered and when Carrie Elkin joins him to take the role of Cagney’s Mother there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
I first heard a version of Isn’t Love Great when Baker toured last year and what was a peculiarly odd song has developed, with the edition of trumpets and a well crafted arrangement, into a wonderful love song about two outcasts from what we deem ‘society’ but who would begrudge them ‘love’? Certainly not me.
By Sam Baker’s standards Button by Button is quite a jolly little tune and; again the detail that he includes can only be compared to Hemingway as two embarrassed lovers prepare to make love for the first time; leaving the listener feeling like a voyeur; but unable to tear ourselves away.
Without ever banging drums for attention; Politics are never too far away from a Sam Baker record and on SAY GRACE we get the heartbreaking, accordion led Migrants; about 14 poor souls who get lost in the dessert as they seek a new life; and the humorous Ditch about a man who scratches a living for a his family and ‘crazy ass wife’ who ‘God Bless her/for what it’s worth/thinks she and Taylor Swift were separated at birth’ – if you want a single taste of Sam Baker’s work; find this song and tell me he’s not a genius!
The album ends with a very short song, Go In Peace; which borders on an end of evening prayer and concludes one of the finest albums of 2013.
Released UK August 19th