Monday, September 1, 2008

Sam Baker

Sept ’08 – One of my brothers recently gave me a burn of Sam Baker’s ‘Pretty World’ and ‘Mercy’. As I subsequently fell in love with the albums, I went out and bought them, an act that places me squarely in an older age-bracket: the ‘went out’ - i.e., went to one of those anachronisms, record shops (so anachronistic that this one actually closed down before my order had arrived) – the ‘bought’, and the fact that I wanted to actually hear the albums, with the tracklisting in the right order, and liner notes, and the quality better than a many-times-compressed-and-uncompressed-download-burn (at first I thought Sam Baker had a lisp, but if he does, then so does the woman who sings harmonies with him, and even his guitar has one). His songs are very much in the Texan singer-songwriter camp, with lots of anti-heroes, lots of characterisation, specific town-names, horses, oil, whiskey. He goes so far as to sing a song about Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Waiting Round To Die’. But he doesn’t limit himself to the genre; and by reaching out to other subjects, other sources of imagery, other influences, he ensures the genre’s survival.

One of his songs, about an Odessa oil heir, incorporates a couple of verses of ‘HARD TIMES’, a song I knew from Emmylou’s ‘Live At The Ryman’ (which includes an enigmatic anecdote where Bill Monroe says to Emmylou, “I’ve got some scissors if you need ‘em.” This phrase, its context shed, has been lodged meaninglessly in my mind for about twelve years). It’s impossible to sing ‘HARD TIMES’ without putting your heart into it, and I downloaded (see, I accept that this internet thing has its uses) the lyrics, and even went onto All Music Guide to read about Stephen Foster, who wrote the song in the late sixties (that’s the lateeighteen-sixties). I sang it at our recent house-warming, which might have been a bit of a downer, as its first verse begins with ‘Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count her many tears’, and goes on, ‘Though we seek mirth and beauty, and music light and gay, there are frail forms fainting at the door.’ Don’t we have parties precisely to forget all that? But I think everyone was too drunk by then to be capable of taking in anything except another chug-a-lug.