on August 22, 2007
There aren't a lot of perfect CDs in this world, but this is about as close as it's possible to get. From opening to close every word, every inflection, every phrase, every note, every chord -- everydamnthing for that matter -- is flawless.
Easy vocal comparisons to John Prine's best efforts are immediately apparent. Listen deeper and you'll reflect on Tom Waits's operatic narrative and Warren Zevon's superb satirical wit. Mr. Baker's songwriting is direct lineage from Woody Guthrie, a position Bruce Springsteen has justifiably assumed in the past few years.
Only the great Dave Alvin is less widely acknowledged as a genuine musical treasure.
Altogether, some major-serious company by any standards.
The title track is just brilliant. "Orphan," "Broken Fingers," and "Slots" are its equal. During the first listen, I knew these tunes will be in my mind forever.
Call me over-the-edge, but this could very well wind up as my personal Pick of the Year for '07, certainly no less than Top 5.
The only downside is that Mr. Baker's talent sadly may get lost in today's sorry musical environment. He's too good for programmed radio and doesn't neatly fit into rock or country. Pray satellite radio picks up this CD so Mr. Baker can receive his just rewards as one of the freshest and most honestly original artists to put out a release in a very, very long time.
This is why we listen to music folks. Support Sam Baker and buy both this and his previous CD called "Mercy."
You might just save, or at least restore, your faith in the redemptive qualities of music.
on October 30, 2007
Baker was riding a train to Machu Picchu in Peru in 1986 when a backpack bomb hidden in the compartment over his head exploded. Seven people died. Baker almost made it eight. The blast destroyed part of his left shoulder, severed the femoral artery in his left leg, punctured his eardrums, and mangled his left (fretting) hand. It took him years to recover. As he did, Baker, who had worked as a boatman and a carpenter, turned to poetry. Eventually, he began playing live, strumming guitar lefthanded.
He's not much of a vocalist, but he's an expressive singer, using emphasis and timing to make the most of a craggy croak that immediately brings to mind John Prine.
Like Prine, Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams, he's a superb storyteller with an economical and effective style. So effective that he doesn't need choruses on all the songs on "Pretty World," his second disc, to draw you into the rhythm. On a couple of cuts, he uses standards -- Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" -- as preludes and his words match up to the classics.
"Hard Times" opens "Odessa," the tale of a boy who killed a girl rolling his Corvette. He inherits daddy's oil money, never learned to work and never forgot the girl. "He's an old man now; Lives on his dead daddy's place. Never took a wife; he is going to die without a trace. See he loved the girl who was penned in the Vette; Talks to her everyday. Her face was blood and diamonds; he remembers her that way."
The sound is spare with just enough framing from a backing band fronted by Walt Wilkins and augmented by guests including Lloyd Maines (Natalie's dad), Gurf Morlix and Fats Kaplin. Marcia Ramirez offers counterpoint vocals on several cuts.
While songs like the opening "Juarez (A Song to Himself)," "Orphan" and "Slots" are gritty tales about down and outers, there's also a sweetness to Baker. The title cut reflects on the opening of a day, before the sun, before the heat and "before dreams are lost like midnight pearls." "Sweetly Undone" is achingly beautiful. "I watch you at the pool, slowly undress. Spread your towel on St. Agustine, lay down and rest, lay down and rest. Lay down with your top, sweetly undone."
Baker's phrasing in that song is perfect, affecting, brilliant. But then this is a brilliant disc, the best singer/songwriter offering of the year. Baker writes about our fleeting lives in a way rarely heard in popular music with a gift for metaphor and phrasing that resonates long after the final chord.
on October 15, 2007
I had never heard of Sam Baker until I was surfing My Space and came across his page. I listened to a few bars of one of the songs from his first cd Mercy, which I have also ordered. This guy is amazing. His haunting melodies, and unique vocal stylings that are a mixture of talk and melody just stick with you. They hit your soul.
There is not a bad cut in the pack and Odesssa, Slots, and Juarez will stick with me like glue. Boxes brought me to tears, and the title cut settled me on an uneasy night. Broken Fingers left me with questions? What a gift to find a new artist I can embrace. Thank you Sam.
The music of Texas-based singer-songwriter Sam Baker was new to me..... until I heard him sing in a "song circle" with his fellow Texan Jimmy LaFave at this year's annual International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. The moment Baker opened his mouth to sing I knew from his unique delivery that he had something to say. His voice is roughly hewn and sounds like he gargles with razor blades - not unlike the impression I get when listening to Tom Waits. But his pacing is what grabs you - as it did for the hundred-plus others in the room during this showcase. I needed to know more about Baker and hear his music, which led me to this album - one of a trilogy of CDs that he recorded for LaFave's own label, Music Road Records (founded in 2007). Visually - and graphically - the three CDs look nearly identical in their white digipaks with a stark white photo on the front. Inside are the CD and a booklet with the songs' lyrics in a font and typeface you can actually read. (rare these days). This is important because it's Baker's lyrics you want to experience and they often read like poetry.
On this CD Baker borrows lyrics and music from some traditional folk songs and incorporates them within the performance. For "Odessa" there is Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Will Come Again No More" "Jacob's Ladder" is another interpolation.
Baker is a unique songwriter with a distinctive voice. He needs to be discovered by more folks. Hopefully, with publicity from LaFave - and appearances at events like the Folk Alliance - where folk radio DJs come to discover new music to play, he'll find a wider audience.
Meanwhile, listen to some samples and discover Baker for yourself. I'm glad I did.
on May 12, 2014
I heard Sam Baker interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air and it just stopped me in my tracks. His music is so heartfelt, so real that I feel I've been given the chance to enter the world of someone who has experienced great trauma and to know a little bit of what that world is like. That is a great gift. Very few writers are courageous enough to be so open, so honest. This is work on a level I've rarely encountered.