Personnel: Tim Lorsch, Chris Baker-Davies, Jessi Colter, Joy Lynn White, Michael Kelsh, Mike Daly, Walt Wilkins, Rick Plant, Mickey Grimm, Ron de la Vega.
What strikes you first about Sam Baker's music is his singing. He sings with a craggy, slightly slurry manner than sounds a bit like post-throat cancer John Prine. Baker's raspy voice, however, didn't result from cancer. He was a victim of a Peruvian train bombing that affected his hearing and, consequently, his singing. It takes a little getting accustomed to his voice, but once you do and start listening more closely to the songs, you'll realize that Baker also possesses some of Prine's keen storytelling skills. From the opening tune, the touching widower's tale "Waves," Baker demonstrates a true gift for narrative songwriting, particularly telling stories in which the American Dream has gotten a little tarnished. In "Baseball" he contrasts a Little League game with the image of the boys becoming soldiers, but he never lets the song lapse into melodrama. "Truale" rivals Robert Earl Keen's and James McMurtry's ability to tell Texas tales of misadventures. "Thursday" empathizes with a single mother's daily struggles, while a brush with death leads "Iron"'s working-man protagonist to a surprising epiphany. These songs' plainspoken truths resonate with a quiet power. After this series of searing character studies, Baker uses two instrumentals, the brief "Prelude" and the longer "Mercy" to bookend the two more autobiographical tunes that constitute the album's closing section. "Steel" recounts his near fatal accident in a poetic yet unflinching way. In the follow-up song, "Angels," he makes a plea for mercy in these troubled times. Musically, Baker opts for an unadorned style that suits his spare but vivid storytelling. He also utilizes the singing talents of such old pros as Joy Lynn White, Kevin Welch, and Jessi Colter to bolster his own vocals. Mercy makes for an unassuming, unexpected treat and introduces Baker as another talented Texas troubadour in the tradition of Keen, McMurtry, and Townes Van Zandt. ~ Michael Berick