It’s no secret how I feel about Sam Baker, it’s been 4 years since my stunt blog post on his record Cotton. To recap back in 2009 I said I would stop writing the blog unless people bought his new record. I was happy with the results and I’ve been back at the blog ever since. But a new record by Sam Baker is still a special day in the songs:illinois world. That’s because I’m constantly amazed by his music, by his off putting at times halting vocalese but as always it’s the songs and the characters that inhabit them that are most unforgettable (although on this record the band really steps forward!).
As I said the music on the new record Say Grace is spectacular. Sam produced this himself and claims it’s his most orchestrated record yet. Say Grace features Gurf Morlix, Anthony Da Costa on guitar, and Ray Wylie Hubbard’s drummer Rick Richards and more. Whether it’s the guitar freak out and accordion of “Beast” or the stark piano of “Tattooed Woman” or the simple finger-picked guitar (and equally simple sentiments) of “Isn’t Love Great” the arrangements and playing on this record stand out. Lyrically Sam is in complete command of his imagery.
On “Isn’t love Great” he juxtaposes imagery of “fishnet and leather” with a couple holding hands and words like “princess, gimp, and limp” with “isn’t love great” and “isn’t love grand”. The song is a parable which states that no matter what type of love people share it’s a lovely and wondrous thing. That’s not a theme that is easily shared in a way that doesn’t come across as either pompous of pretentious; here it’s neither.
On the song “Ditch” Sam examines the working class man and his troubles. With lines like “crawling back down in the ditch today”, “glad I got work, glad I got paid”, and this description of his wife “my wife thinks she and Taylor Swift were twins at birth, separated at birth” you get a pretty good mental image of this ditch diggers life.
“The Tattooed Woman” is an ode to unrequited love and “the tattoed woman that sleeps in my bed”. This is what Sam Baker says about this one with it’s imagery of rain and impending doom:
We recorded the piano (Steve Conn) in Nashville added drums (Rick Richards) vocal (me) second piano with effects (me) in Austin and guitar in Alberta (Anthony daCosta). The piece opens with a 17th century French melody then morphs into a meditation on the sleeping woman. It returns to the French melody in the bridge and in the outro I learned that melody as the hymn
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent
when I was a child.
I can’t possibly absorb the totality of this record nor can I say where it will stand in the Sam Baker’s cannon. But I’ll tell you what. I’m glad this was made, I’m glad there is someone like Sam Baker making music, and I’m glad I am able to share it with you. I guess I’d like to say grace for all of that.
Here’s the title track: