A Californian songwriter Geoff Baker came to our attention a few years back with a sparkly entertaining EP that had a fine mixture of quirkiness and melancholy about it. Three years later this full-blooded album appears, upping the melancholia on a selection that often refers to loss and sadness. Baker says of it
“This album starts between midnight and dawn, on a dark street in Berlin in the fall of 2001, days after the death of a close friend and partner in musical crime, seven sheets to the wind, stumbling home, guitar in hand, Nearing your front door a few minutes later, out of breath and out of paper, you find an empty pack of cigarettes on the sidewalk and write, on the only side of the foil that will ever let you write, “Where are you now?” It’s half honest and half rhetorical.
In short, this became an album about people you miss, places you’ve been, things that went wrong, and things you did wrong. But it’s also about how powerful memories are, where to look for the good, and how no thing, no place, and nobody that ever mattered to you can ever really be lost. “
The first thing to strike one here is the overall sound of the album. Despite his stateside status the majority of these songs have an autumnal English feel to them Paul Simon did this in the sixties and Baker follows in his footsteps. While he plays the majority of the instruments himself he’s assisted on a few songs and when the cello parts, played by John Mescall appear there is a definite whiff of Nick Drake in the air. Although there are some uptempo songs (the title song, Girl From Kinnelon and Continental Drift) even these maintain the overall theme of loss.
The woody tones of the opening song One step Further Than You have Ever Dared To Go sets the scene. Its rippling guitars and husky vocals invite the listener in and set up themes that are revisited. On Barbwire Fences in Kansas adds a touch of Americana with some plaintive pedal steel from Bruce Kaphan. A meditation on memorials there’s a touch of Jay Farrar’s style about it and Baker captures a fine sense of desolate locations and sadness. The sense of loss and loneliness culminates in the unadorned Not To Worry (Even Jesus) where Baker sings accompanied only by a solo guitar on a beautiful song with lyrics that are baffling, almost haiku like. “Light that I caught beating on my window, Was you and telling me to move along, You were saying not to worry, What has been can never be gone, Not to cling so fiercely to the earth, When I don’t know what anything is worth.”
The effect is mesmerising. Baker follows this up with a stunning song, The Middle of Nebraska, which starts off with just guitar accompaniment and gently builds up with mandolin and then fiddle and cello cosseting the song. Although this is the highpoint of the album there are several other gems. All The Same has a definite Drake feel in the arrangement while In the First Week of April is an old fashioned narrative ballad concerning a veteran of the Gulf wars who relives his traumatic memories. The closing song When I Was Young I Never Wanted The Sun seems to point to a feeling that runs through the album, a sense of displacement, of being out of joint when Baker finds himself living outwith his native California. On his website he notes where he was when he write these songs, places like Amsterdam, Cork, Berlin, Kansas and New Jersey. This might go some way to explain the wintry feeling to these songs and although it might be tough for Baker to forego the sunshine state if his sojourns are responsible for these beautifully crafted songs then here’s to him spending more times in colder climes.
The Middle of Nebraska