Sam Baker

A reminder that legendary Texan Singer Songwriter Sam Baker is appearing in Glasgow next week as part of a UK tour that kicks off at London Dingwalls on Monday 10th November. Sam Baker’s introduction to songwriting and live performance began as a method of coming to terms with a tragic, life-changing moment. Aged 32, taking a train ride through Peru, a bomb exploded in the carriage causing catastrophic damage and killing seven people, including a German boy and his parents who were sitting close by. Having survived, but left with both physical and psychological scars, Baker set out determined to relearn the guitar and rebuild his memory and speech. He attributes his minimalist storytelling techniques and lyrical elegance to this life changing event; his reflection on life and appreciation of each day a clear theme throughout his work.
“Life is a gift. I went through a lot of bitterness- a lot of anger. But those things are toxic. Gratitude for what remains is more helpful than resentment for what was lost”

Catching the attention of BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris with his first album ‘Mercy’ back in 2004, Baker followed up with ‘Pretty World’ in 2007 and completed the set with ‘Cotton’ in 2009; now referring to this as ‘The Mercy Trilogy.’ The trilogy maps his path of recovery combined with the overwhelming theme that ‘everyone is at the mercy of another one’s dream’. With the support of pledges from fans across the world, Baker returned in 2013 with a new album ‘Say Grace’,supported by an incredibly successful UK tour.

The Glasgow show is Wednesday 12th November 2014 at Webster’s Theatre, promoted by The Fallen Angels Club. Blabber’n’Smoke’s review of Say Grace is Tour dates are here

Jeni & Billy ‘s Big Picnic Band. Picnic in The Sky.

Funny how things come back to haunt you. Well, not haunt exactly but Jeni & Billy got in touch with Blabber’n’Smoke a few months ago asking if we wanted a copy of their new album, Picnic In The Sky. Back in 2010, we listened to their album, Longing For Heaven describing it as the sparse folk sound of the mountains and backwoods folk, god fearing, hardworking, scraping a living but finding joy in family and friends and giving it a big thumbs up. And so it was that Picnic In The Sky winged its way here. It’s fair to say that all we said about Longing For Heaven could be said about Picnic In The Sky with one caveat. The duo’s sparse sound is supplanted by some accompanying musicians, a situation that was not planned per se but came about as a result of some serendipitous goings on including a waitress taking a food order and then disappearing for some time.

The result is an album of Jeni & Billy with Craig Eastman, David Jackson, Denny Weston Jnr. and Dillon O’Brian filling in on fiddle, slide guitar, lap steel, mandolin, bass, accordion, drums, keyboards, claps, feet, shovel, rake and baking pan (!). It’s still raw country music, still what you might expect to hear on a porch, just this time you might need a bigger porch. The expanded instrumentation does allow for a degree of sophistication with The Days Of The Blue Tattoo, a song about a white woman captured by Yavapai Native Americans, brimming with lush guitars, bar room piano, accordion and fiddle and sounding for all the world like an Emmylou Harris song from the late seventies. However it’s testament to their homespun qualities that the band songs retain an earthiness that harks back to the early recordings of The Carter Family with the two best examples being Are You Meant For Me and The Mill Hurries On, the latter being the song that features the shovel and rake percussion on a wonderfully woozy and sepia stained waltz. There are numerous delights here with the opening song, The Robin & The Banjo an excellent example of raw Appalachian music complete with flatfoot dance steps while Picnic In The Sky flies along borne on lilting slide guitar as it paints a picture of bygone days. And for anyone hankering for the simplicity of their earlier recordings there’s The Old Hotel, a plaintive and raw monochrome capture of a desperate lover, armed with a gun and a fifty dollar bill, returning to that hotel looking for the will and the way to end it all. Great stuff indeed.

Jeni Hankins assures me that she and Billy Kemp will be in Scotland next year. In the meantime this is as fine a slice of delicate, bruised and uplifting roots music you’ll hear in a while.


The Stray Birds. Best Medicine. Yep Roc Records.

Blabber’n’Smoke has been privileged to have seen The stray Birds twice this year. First time at Celtic Connections when they were promoting their excellent EP, The Echo Sessions. Next up was a Fallen Angels Club promotion at the CCA in September. In the intervening months, the engaging trio from Pennsylvania were picked up by US label, Yep Roc Records who have released Best Medicine, the band’s second album. This is great news, for the band of course but also for those who faithfully follow the stream of very fine roots musicians, incessantly touring, playing to small (but dedicated) crowds and who buy the CDS, vinyl, T-Shirts and god knows what else at the merch table after the gig. If a label like Yep Roc (home to Dave Alvin, Chuck Prophet, Paul Weller and Robyn Hitchcock) are interested then the future may be just a little bit brighter.

Anyway, down to business. The Stray Birds (Maya de Vitry -guitar, banjo, fiddle, Oliver Craven – guitar, fiddle and Charles Muench – double bass, banjo) have much in common with numerous other string bands doing the circuit, they can all sing with lead vocals shared out while their harmonies are spot on. They swap instruments with abandon, can swing or weep depending on the song and, grouped around a single mic, they can transport the listener to the Appalachians even if you’re sitting at home or hunched up in a folding seat in a dark and hot auditorium. There are two things that perhaps set them apart from the throng. de Vitry’s singing is the number one weapon here as she has a superb voice, fairly unique, no Lucinda Williams’ sultriness or sassy cowgirl grins. She seems steeped in the loam of the land, resonant and rich, a full throated voice that resounds through the ages, she should have been singing with The Band back in the days. In addition to this Craven is no slouch himself in the vocal department while Muench adds a fine earthiness with his contributions. Weapon number two is the songwriting. A song like Adelaide is very much in the tradition but the performance is well above par while Feathers And Bone (with Craven’s slightly hoarse voice leading) is a standard waiting to be picked up by others as it transports the listener to another land. The title song is far removed from traditional fare as the band sing the praises of a record store they visited. A hymn to music (and vinyl in particular) it swells with rippling guitar and an almost Gospel approach to the grooved deity.

There’s not a dud song here as the band recall the Wounded Creek Native American massacre on Black Hills, a song that towers when played live, Simple Man, a Guthrie styled tribute to land workers and Might Rain, the closing song and one which stylistically resembles the opening title song as de Vitry sings again of loss and the band sound as old as the hills with stuttering banjo and plaintive fiddle. Live, the band can whip up a storm but on the album the jollity, if we can call it that , is provided by a rousing Western Swing take on the old standard, Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor and a fine knockabout hillbilly swagger on Who’s Gonna Shoe. Make Yep Roc (and the band) happy and grab a copy, you won’t be disappointed.