s a y g r a c e
say grace baby you know how
Sam Baker might be the most captivating songwriter in America. You’ll probably never catch yourself singing one of his songs in the shower, because his melodies generally tend to be as bare-bones serviceable as the raspy scratch of his singing; but by God, you listen to what he has to say, hanging on for every line like a baby bird at feeding time.
Sometimes his words come out haltingly, one by one; others tumble out of his mouth in spurts of nursery rhyme cadence (“copper penny for your thoughts/copper jacket full of lead/they wanted little Jimmy Cagney dead …”) By the time he sing-speaks them all, he’s burned a black-and-white image or sometimes even a whole movie in your mind that lingers long after each song ends.
Some, like “Juarez” and “Odessa” from 2007’s Pretty World, will haunt you for life. Baker’s fourth album, Say Grace, adds several more masterpieces to that gallery, begining with the title track’s poignant portrait of a woman weighing the ghosts of her past against the lonely onset of advancing age.
In “Migrants,” he tells of 14 men who cross the border only to succumb to the elements of the brutal Sonora desert. “Ay mijitos/they looked like dried leaves/scattered in the sun,” Baker sings with a sadness underscored by Joel Guzman’s keening accordion. “They got 12 lines in a midwestern paper/on the pages with the ads for shoes.” But there’s true grace here, too, from the sweetly touching but unmawkish “Isn’t Love Great” to the surprise sense of humor leavening the blue-collar angst of “Ditch”: “My wife God bless her and for what it’s worth/thinks she and Taylor Swift/were twins at birth/separated at birth/Earth to wife/wife to earth!”
— RICHARD SKANSE