Monday, August 28, 2017

Sam Baker – Land of Doubts

Sam Baker – Land of Doubts

Following a European tour behind his new album, Land Of Doubt, Sam Baker is turning his attention to creative projects in 2017: Opening his first-ever exhibition as a visual artist, staging an original play and filming a documentary. As you may know, Sam has limited hearing after being on a bus that exploded during a 1986 terrorist attack in Peru, but he’s from Texas, now living in Austin. There’s a lot more bio to cover on him but the album has 15 songs and they’re all worth talking about on one level or another. This is his 5th album since launching his music career, and he’s now expanding his reach by writing a play called Broken Fingers, filming a documentary and staging an art exhibition (Dream Of The Snow Geese) in Santa Fe, NM. And this album which serves as a companion to 2013’s Say Grace, starts off with “Summer Wind” and it quickly passes with some nifty guitar parts into “Some Kind Of Blue” which kicks up into high gear in the songwriting department.

A serious war number with everything he’s got behind it to really pull off a top shelf song, and that is honestly what it is, nothing more to really explain except to recommend headphones. You won’t be sorry you listened, especially if you like a narrative approach to the army about Charlie fighting Charlie. It goes through all the gnarly mud to be held in the trenches. You’ll have to just hear the rest for yourself. The instrumental “The Silvered Moon” is up next and it’s a quick set up for what comes next in the form of “Margaret” which gets tagged the token love song. And this is where it gets a little soft but bounces back after you get through it.

“Love Is Patient” is an otherworldly thing worth waiting for, so anything could come before it and not have any worries. This is my favorite song by Sam Baker, and I wouldn’t have looked past this album if it were not for this amazing opus. Nothing on the album is composed quite like it, in fact nothing out there I’ve heard lately sounds so majestic and real. It’s a fake world of a little of everything, and music is no exception. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear something from so far out in left field. I’m glad I heard it and kept looking-into his work. It should hold up in my playlist for a long time coming. The track already feels like it has that much resonation quality.

“Leave” is almost a complete 180 in contrast, but not a complete loss as a song to enjoy after that. It just never quite picks up until it threatens to at the end, but he makes his message perfectly clear in the lyrics. “Pastures Fit For Thoroughbreds” and “Song Of Sunrise Birds” are two more instrumentals, the former being the longer and more enjoyable sounding of the two, and a lot more interesting as well. This isn’t your grand-daddy’s jazz, but it isn’t exactly modern either. It falls somewhere in between the two. And “Peace Out” gets the last word in edgewise, which is by far one of the most modern moments on what is an amazing collection of modern folk songs. 


Randy Jones

bd Gottfried

bd Gottfried 

“Something You Weren’t” begins a show that if didn’t have a few turns could be the product of a progressive rock play of sorts. But I’m no expert on this artist, so, call it what you want but it has a storytelling feel about it. There is a looseness to some of it that veers off the beaten path sometimes, and that is why it goes both ways as an album. You’d have to know him enough to know these things, but anyone can get either impression just by listening to it. There is no question he is a crafty songwriter and excellent musician and singer. But the opening track doesn’t encapsulate everything he’s capable of. The second track “Crosshairs” doesn’t either, but it’s a bit more progressive and even has a more aggressive energy to it. And while not being new on the block, that is where it gets testy for any veteran solo artist. He’s done some heavy studio session work in his career, and a lot of his own albums, and while his maturity shows, his spirit remains youthful in this song, with a wise lyrical effort to round it off. This has both a modern and a retro sound and you can pin point where it might be coming from or not. I found it to be one of the more interesting tracks, whether-or not it holds any accessible interest. “Blame It On The Money” is somehow better in both departments, but perhaps a little on the mainstream side for this album. If there are a lot of familiar rings on this album, this has one of them wrapped around it. The problem is I can’t remember where I heard it, but that won’t be his problem. It works on that strength alone for me, but there are better instances to give on tracks like the following “Frequencies” which tones it down a lot. It could be the sleeper track of the album, as it bubbles along nicely enough for jazz to mark a turning point. It’s good enough to call it at least that vital of a point. 
“Eye Of Time” is my favorite, but that could change with time, as several of these tracks are growers. But the drums pick up here on what is-actually more like a ballad, than a rocker of any kind. That’s why the drums play such a great role on it and make it worth the whole price of admission. I also recommend “Breakaway” as my second pick, and I find it likely the most accessible track too. “Incarnation” doesn’t float my boat as well, but it helps pull off yet another big moment in the finale which is “SOS with an IOU.” It takes the album out more like it should’ve come in. And that can’t be bad. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas!

John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! - The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! 

You won’t hear another release like this in 2017. John Elderkin has surrounded himself with a cadre of top shelf of North Carolina indie musicians, a virtual all-star roster of regional talent, in order to pull off this sprawling seventeen song collection entitled The Fall and Rise of John Elderkin and ¡Moonbeams No Mas! and they are more than capable of aiding him in realizing his wild ambitions. This is a tribute of sorts and testament to the effect David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust exerted over Elderkin’s imagination, but it is also a monumental riff on that classic album that finds Elderkin re-envisioning its impact on him with a distinctive individual artistic point of view that moves this far away from mere imitation. It’s a collection rich with characterizations, a love for the musician’s life coupled with some jaundiced humor at its pratfalls, and undeniably intelligent from first note to last. 
The first full song on the album, “We Waited Five Years”, is one of the album’s direct references to Ziggy Stardust and embodies the aforementioned wont of Elderkin’s songwriting to mix pathos with dashes of smirking humor. A truly singular voice comes from this recording – it bears some marks of modern influences, but everything is so seamlessly transmuted through Elderkin’s personality that it renders such observations mute or meaningless. “Song for David Bowie” might prompt some listeners to believe it’s another in a long line of heavy handed, but well meant, tributes to the Thin White Duke, but this song takes on a much larger scope beyond merely paying Bowie his due and patiently unfolds into something quite memorable. It confines itself to acoustic guitar and vocals for much of its duration before expanding in the second half to include electric guitars and forceful, slightly uptempo drumming. “Gather Your Strength” has some gritty electric guitar and a steady march tempo with Elderkin’s relatively sweet, clean vocals offsetting the dissonance from the instruments.  
“Don’t Look Straight Into the Sun” is, arguably, the most guitar heavy song on the album and features some particularly blazing axe work in the second half. It has an ambitious scope that finds Elderkin and his collaborators moving through an assortment of textures and tempos as well as including more of the evocative lyrical content that contributes to this being such a memorable release. “Get Back in the Van” is a band on the road song quite unlike you’ve likely heard before and has one of the best opening lines of any track on the album. Elderkin’s vocal gets over the storytelling aspects of the song in a gripping way that ensures even listeners who have never been in a band will relate to its sentiments. There are two instrumentals, “Teletar” and “A Trip to the Moon”, that set up the album’s climatic number “Give Me Your Hands”. It’s a surprisingly low-fi conclusion to a grandiose album and has the same hazy, dream-like ambiance defining many of the other tracks. It ends the release on a satisfying note and ties everything in quite nicely. This is, as the review began, a truly unique release unlike anything else you’ve heard in recent history and well worth your time and money.  

Joshua Stryde