Saturday, July 31, 2010

Current listening : Sam Baker "Cotton"

Sometimes music, like a book or a poem or a film, just sneaks up on us, grabs us by the throats, shakes us down and leaves us wondering and pondering the profundity, fragility and wonder of the human condition. For me the music of Texan singer songwriter Sam Baker does just that.

His 2009 CD Cotton is one of the finest albums I have heard for years.

Partly, it is Baker's unique spoken" vocal" style, the beauty and honesty of his sparse lyrics and evocative acoustic backing and the power of his songwriting narratives which weave fine grained stories of everyday life.

There is a sparseness and authenticity to his lyrics, which work as poetry, the result of a serious tragedy that affected the part of his brain where words are stored and that left him struggling to craft words.

But is partly Baker himself, and his amazing story of survival from a terrorist attack, that gives his music a deep gravitas and respect for the suffering and the cycles and tragedy of life and the dignity of people who live on the margins of society.

Baker started writing and playing music as a way to grapple with the aftermath of the tragedy that consumed his life for decades. In 1986 while traveling by train in Peru Baker nearly died in a terrorist attack. A bomb planted in the cabin in which he was traveling exploded killed his traveling companions and left him with with horrific injuries and emotional scars that took decades to heal.

He taught himself to play guitar left handed due to damage to his arm and hand. He was in his late 40's before he performed in public and past 50 when his debut CD Mercy was self released in 2004.

I first heard Sam Baker on ABC Radio National's Daily Planet. Cotton is his third CD in his Mercy trilogy which includes Mercy and Pretty World. They are hard to find in Australia and have to be ordered from overseas but they are worth it. This is music of profound humanity and quality.

Articles about Sam Baker can be read here, and here.

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