“Beginning to make big waves”
– Rob Adams (The Herald)
“A super-sensitive, classy album”
– Graham Hassall (Radio Nightingale, UK)
“Sam Baker’s Pretty World is a masterpiece of intense Song-writer craft, as certain as a rock in a Tornado and upright and juicy as a Cactus in the desert”
– Frank Ipach (www.home-of-rock.de)
“One of the stand-out albums of 2007”
– Karen Miller (The Miller Tells Her Tale, UK)
“Sam Baker is a genius”
– Freddy Celis (Rootstime, Belgium)
– Frank Ipach (Germany)
– Jacques Spiry (Americana Music Club, RCF Radio, France)
“A five-star fantastic release from Sam Baker”
– Francois Braeken (Belgium)
“Sam Baker’s Pretty World is a great album”
– Leo Kattestaart (Holland)
“This is an exceptional album, just brilliant”
– Folk Radio UK
“Sam Baker could soon become a very big star”
– Jackie Blair (Country Music &Dance magazine - Scotland & Ireland)
"Magnificent – one of the great albums of the year."
"Invite an outsider inside your life Baker is the kind of outsider figure that Vic Chesnutt or Johnny Dowd cuts, singular in style, almost astylistic (if there is such a term). His vocals are halting, spoken like he is singing to himself with no mind for the audience, this is a private dialog, the songs are short films playing in his head. It doesn’t exclude the audience though; you are drawn in to these tightly sketched
dramas by the imagery, the broken vocal and most importantly for the initial listens – the sympathetic musical backing. ‘Slots’ is a prime example, a simple story of an old woman playing the slots at Reno; the
backing is restrained, bleached almost, highlighting with squiggles of electric guitar and some excellent backing vocals from Britt Savage, the song burning itself into your mind like you’ve been looking into the sun for too long. Odessa brilliantly sketches the desiccation of a life spoilt in youth, the pedal steel from Lloyd Maines finding just the right tone and the song finds poetry in heartbreak and disappointment – lines like ‘he is going to die without a trace’ are the kind that Willy Valutin is lauded for; spare economical, believable, Faulkner in five minutes. Stories captured in the dust motes of the instrumental notes, shafts of light illuminating the everyday ‘Days’ mixes Spanish with a elegiac soundtrack, cello and steel guitar bringing to life a simple domestic memory."
"These songs have solidity, substance and authority – everything is done on Baker’s terms. You enter into his cracked world and it offers up a rewarding listen."
- John Gjaltema
He wears a blue suede cowboy hat. He’s in a brothel in Juarez with a lady on his lap. Without anyone hearing it, he sings a song. He sings waiting around to die. This is how Sam Baker starts his second cd Pretty World (self released). The next song is about a woman who her whole life long tells everyone she’s an orphan. But really she isn’t. Truth is, her mother was fed up with a child who was constantly demanding attention. So mother dearest took her to an orphanage for girls. Which is where she finds herself, the only girl with straight hair in a house full of curls. Sam Baker (acoustic guitar, mouth harp) is a gifted story teller. He only needs a few words to grab your attention. He makes visualising easy. The third song is about a woman in her mobile home outside Reno. She hangs out in a casino most of the time. In one hand a glass of gin, in the other coins for the slot machines. She needs that kind of action. In yet another song a woman stuffs her life in boxes. Pictures gap-toothed kids. Drawings made by same children. Trophies and an old newspaper showing a wedding picture and a bunch of valentine cards that say I love you. Sam Baker still has the prairie sand on his vocal chords, according to Peter Pleyte in his review of the debut cd, Mercy, one of the strongest albums of this decade. With Pretty World, the Texan has once again delivered an album for the yearly lists. Once again he’s accompanied by Mike Daly (pedal steel, slide), Ron DeLaVega (bass, cello), Micky Grimm (drums, percussion), Rick Plant (electric
guitar) and producers Tim Lorsch (violin, mandolin) and Walt Wilkins (acoustic guitar, vocals). The guests include Joel Guzman, Lloyd Maines, Fats Kaplan and Gurf Morlix. A sublime piece of work."
- Michael Hingston (Country Music People)
5 stars out of 5
“This is an album of fascinating rhythmic ideas, stunning poetic lyrics and beautifully-judged arrangements. Sam Baker comes from the rich tradition of Texas songwriting and his narrative skills
are in the mould of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. He deserves to be far more widely heard”
– Maverick Magazine UK
A fantastic album that is guaranteed to open your mind and your heart
* * * *
Every day we witness people behaving like crazy people – selfishness and greed and rat race short tempers there for all to see. The art of looking after number one has reached epidemic proportions. And all the time if we just took a minute to slow down and be a little more thoughtful, what rich rewards we would gain. Does ugly, negative energy have an effect when it floods the space around us? You bet. Those who carry a positive charge, then, must be good to have around, to counter-balance things.
It is well documented that Sam Baker has had to learn to be a survivor. He has learned forgiveness when most of us would have emerged bitter and looking for some payback. Like a kid filled with wonder, he has become an observer with a keen eye and a heart of gold. He takes in the idiosyncrasies others wouldn’t pick up on as he closely studies the characters he encounters. He is tuned in and appreciative
of the little things that most of us take for granted. In this consumer crazy age we could all do to take a page out of his book; stop and smell the flowers. Baker’s last fine album, MERCY was extraordinarily moving. When he first heard it, producer Gurf Morlix was prompted to describe Baker as the best
songwriter he had heard in years. While PRETTY WORLD finds the half-whispered sandpaper voice still sounding fragile and vulnerable, the power of the message is as strong as ever. Not that the ‘message’ is necessarily spelled out in black and white so much as subliminally there in the very energy
that he carries with him. There is a basic spirituality running right through the core which makes it almost therapeutic to listen to someone who is so well-balanced and at one with himself and the rest of the world, even its darker underbelly. One or two of the stories are set to sparkle almost hymn-like with the band bringing an old-time Preservation Hall feel to create just the right amount of uplifting spirit.
Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More is cleverly used to thread around the main melody on Odessa, a tale about a poor soul who made all the money he could ever have wanted from being oil-rich, but lost the things that really mattered. Over-all the production job is perfect, with arrangements and playing hitting just the right level of sensitivity, most of the time, involving little more than bare, albeit very tasty, essentials.
There is just one break-out with the full band – Mike Daly, Ron Dela Vega, Mickey Grimm, Tim Lorsch, Rick Plant, Walt Wilkins and Bill McDermott – all cranked up and breaking sweat for Psychic. He shows us that the healing process for him is ongoing, Broken Fingers a reminder that there are scars he’ll carry with him forever. Then almost as a thanksgiving piece, with Days, he lets us know he is grateful for everything from the smell of baking bread to the simple light of candles. His voice trails off…”These days, how beautiful…”
With a little help from the Sam Bakers of this world, some day, we might hopefully all see it that way.
– LT (Maverick magazine, UK)
‘Something can happen in a flash – and there’s your song’
- Rob Adams (The Herald)
Sam Baker has a simple philosophy. “You do what you can with what you’ve got,” says the Austin, Texas-based, singer-songwriter whose work is beginning to make big waves. “And if you start looking at what you don’t have, well, you’re lost.” An upbeat character whose conversation is punctuated at regular intervals with easy laughter, Baker has reason to count his blessings. In 1986, while he was visiting Peru, a terrorist bomb exploded on the train that was about to take him to the Inca city of Machu Picchu. The German family sitting opposite him and with whom he had been sharing typical tourist chat were all killed. Baker passed out, came to on the operating table and felt sure that he wouldn’t survive either. His recovery was slow. His left femoral artery had been severed and his left hand was, he says, “badly chopped up”. Following emergency surgery in Peru, he had to undergo 17 corrective operations back home in Houston. At first he couldn’t walk or feed himself and for a long time he expected every room and every car he sat in to blow up. Eventually, he got back to work. Before the incident he’d been a carpenter and a rafting guide. But he found a job in a bank and in his spare time he began writing short stories to try to make sense of what had happened to him.
“It’s a surreal experience, of course, because we’re not living in that kind of situation all the time,” he says. “One minute everything is normal and safe and I’m speaking to this German kid who’s translating for his mum and dad, who are sitting so close our knees are almost touching. Then suddenly this red backpack in the rack above the mum explodes. It blows her head off. The kid is pinned to his seat by shrapnel through his chest and I can’t breathe with the force of the explosion. I remember thinking, This is it. I’m not going to make it’.”
The long-term physical consequences for Baker were complete deafness in one ear and only 70% hearing in the other, and when he got back to playing the guitar, he had to adapt to playing left-handed.
“I wasn’t exactly a virtuoso before. I’d had piano lessons as a kid because my mum played piano and organ in the church, and there was always music in the house,” he says. “But I soon gave up music for
baseball and football until I was about 19, and then I bought a guitar in a pawn shop and taught myself. That was terrible, though. Your hands hurt and it sounds dreadful.” Looking back, the songs he
began writing in his 20s were, he says, pretty awful, too. “They were all that kind of I love you and
you don’t love me’ thing and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that I decided to try to get serious,” he says.
Writing fiction had given him what he considers his most valuable tool: the ability to pare down words and just accept that sometimes it’s necessary to take something he’s laboured over for hours, if not days, and “boot it out the door”.
The songs on his first album, Mercy, which came out in 2004, were so sparse that even their titles consist of only one word. It’s an approach that has worked, though. Radio 2’s Bob Harris has just
pronounced Baker’s second album, Pretty World, one of the albums of the year. “I’m not trying to capture whole lives in these songs,” says Baker. “They’re just moments, because you can cover so much
in two or three minutes. Something can happen, as I know from that train in Peru, in a flash and you have the basis for a story right there. I often start out with a lot of stuff and start peeling away, and if I can get it so that there’s not one phrase that annoys me and where every word carries a lot of implication without sounding false, then I’m happy.”
With his hearing difficulties, taking his songs on to the stage hasn’t been easy. But with a guitar style that he describes as “three chords and a cloud of dust, but I’m working on getting more expressive”, he
has persevered. He’s due to play his first concerts in Scotland later in the year and says that since live performing is part of the reality of being a singer-songwriter, he can’t let physical problems become an
obstacle. “When it’s quiet and the onstage sound is good, I’m OK,” he says. “At other times, it’s like experiencing the Braille equivalent of music. I know when it feels right through my hands and my vocal cords. In the end, though, if you have something to say, you have to do it and find ways of working
round whatever comes along. If it doesn’t all fall apart, that’s great.”
(Plato Record Store – TheHague, NL)
Sam Baker – Pretty World
It’s probably rather lame, but Sam Baker’s first cd, Mercy (in stock again soon), hit us like a bomb. (This debut album consisted of an intense description of a very traumatic experience; the train in which he was travelling became the target of a terrorist assault by the group the Shining Path. Not all passengers were this lucky, but Sam (barely) survived this near surrealistic incident and went through a long period of rehabilitation. He used Mercy to work through this absurd period of hovering between more dead than alive. This new album goes further, further into life. In Pretty World Sam Baker celebrates life and modestly enjoys the little things, that otherwise might well have so easily gone unnoticed. This cd is of the same sublime quality as its predecessor. Musically and textually Pretty World offers the best that Texas has to offer right now’; cleverly deep about friends, family and loved ones. No bite-size nuggets but beautiful story songs about everyday living. This living is a one-off, it’s short enough, focus on the essentials and take the rest as it comes, that, in short, is the message. Be happy with simplicity.
- Rein v/d Berg (To which I, Harry Hoving (record store owner), want to add that this cd hit me like
a bolt of lightning, it’s awesomely beautiful.)
"The songs on this little-known Austinite’s self-released second album are simple on the surface, poetry underneath – hence Townes Van Zandt comparisons. Despite the six-piece band and various guests (including Gurf Morlix), this is understated, affecting music, and even the songs that don’t quote old gospel standards (Orphan; Odessa) sound like you’ve always known them."
- Sylvie Simmons (Mojo)