How do you capture the essence of such a unique and powerful performer on a recording? A live album is often the answer but these do not always work. But, fear not Sam Baker has managed it.

Recorded in Buffalo New York State, 2018, in fact, it could just as easily have been in the Real Music Club, Errigle Inn Belfast, or any of the other stages Sam brings his show to. Then again I suspect it isn’t really a show more a sincere performance about the life, times and observations of Mr. Baker. The back story is fairly well known by now, the terrible injuries from being caught up in a bomb in Peru and the struggle to learn to sing and play again. The unique, sparse style arising from this which is really more storytelling than music.

The characters in the stories inhabit what could be considered the underworld or real world. Not likely to be on the radar of our political leaders. Lives challenged by poverty and its resulting problems drugs, illegal immigration, you name it Sam writes about it. The song titles suggest the topics are the mundane, ‘Boxes’, ‘Thursday’, ‘Snow’, ‘Iron’. Furthermore, the mostly single words point to the style, basic just the essential words. To carry this style off you need to be good, very good. So many songwriters use too many words. Study the style of Dylan, Cohen, Mary Gauthier and you discover it is the ability to hone down to the bare essentials to make every word count that is the real skill.

The recording is basically just Sam singing, or in some cases almost speaking the songs, with the minimum of guitar backing. The vocal dominates and every single word is clear, each song a picture, a slice of life captured. In other hands, this could be a deeply depressing listen and live experience but there is joy and hope in these performances.

If you have been to a Sam Baker show you will know what to expect from this work and will not be disappointed indeed it’s a great way to have your very own on-demand performance as and when required. For newcomers to the artist, it’s a great place to start. Hopefully, Sam Baker will be back in town pretty soon in the meantime this will keep his many local fans in touch with his rich talent.

A short review but a wordy tome just wouldn’t be fitting.

‘Horses & Stars’ is released on August 23rd and available to order at Sam Baker’s website