I first heard Sam Llanas’ voice on BoDeans second album, Outside Looking In, and I was immediately struck by the sincerity and underlying weariness it conveyed. Nearly thirty years later, with the release of Return of the Goya – Part 1, I am reminded why he is one of the strongest voices in American music.
His fourth release since leaving the group in 2011, Return of the Goya – Part 1 is a fine an example of an artist still striving for, and achieving greatness. Starting off with the peppy and somewhat jubilant “Follow You Heart” it is evident Llanas is in a good space and wants listeners to enjoy themselves. Adding an especially nice touch is producer & guitarist Sean Williamson’s use of some countrypolitan lap steel guitar. “Recipe” with its sparse propulsive drumming, coupled with more tasty lap steel continues the tone of the album. The bass (Matt Turner), drums (Kevin Dunphy) and horns (John Simons) in “All Day” weave in and out with Llanas’ vocals, giving us one of the more bouncy and engaging tracks on the album. “Heroes” follows and I am thankful it wasn’t a Bowie cover. Slow and plaintive, Llanas softly takes the focal point with bass, snaps and mournful guitar providing accompaniment for one of the albums standout tracks. “All Alone Again” is a classic country tune which is right at home in this collection. “Rio” continues to showcase the country influence and all I can hear are my 70’ outlaw country heroes singing along.
On an album full of great cuts “Rio”, with its imagery and paced but urgent vocals, may be my favorite. “Long Way Home” is the song that sounds closest to what you would expect from Llanas previous band. Providing a switch from the more country inspired offerings, it punches up the energy and serves as a reminder of how integral he was to the BoDeans sound. “Down the Line” tells the tale of a person looking back at his past while focusing on what lies ahead. Sparse instrumentation allows his voice, worn and contemplative, to take center stage for what I can only imagine is the most personal song on the album. If you liked Sam Llanas before you will continue to do so as this is a standout effort but if you have never heard him this is a wonderful place to hop on board. Return of the Goya – Part 1 further cements Llanas status as one of Americas great singer-song writers and I expect this release will find a home on numerous best of lists come year end. Get yours, here. http://samllanas.com/returnofthegoya/