REVIEW: Andy Baker’s “North Country Sky” Was Created With a Caring Hand

Reviews

Andy Baker – North Country Sky

A little late coming but anyone who likes Steve Earle will appreciate this young Michigan troubadour Andy Baker. His 12-cut North Country Sky (dropped June 10th – Independent) manages to tap into a Steve Earle vocal style but not consistently.

“Second Wind,” is accordion heavy& delightfully sunny & melodic. This is Baker’s 4th LP of carefully measured Americana with traditional roots’ melodies, clever storytelling & instruments that weave together a fine musical tapestry. Nothing heavy-handed.

Produced by Ian Gorman & paced brilliantly with acoustic folk, rock salted with blues & country sifted in a skillet of musical ideas served up tastefully. It has originality despite all the easily recognizable ingredients that could be in the mix. That’s actually what makes for a great artist. Taking influences & solidifying something from it — making it your own.

Baker has this expertise & takes a fistful of flavorful styles to bake his own cake. There are pieces of Dann Rogers, Larry Weiss, Steve Earle & Buddy Miller — tossed into the pot. Sometimes a gruff leathery vocal but everything smoothed over & oiled.

“Sixteen,” – an homage to a younger sister who passed away is not an earth-shaking track but listen to the story. Lose yourself in the beauty of the words. This isn’t amateur hour; this isn’t commercial fare. This is poignant & heart wrenching stuff created with a caring hand. To write a song, some writers need imagination, inspiration, & lots of fiction. Andy seems to thrive on reality, for others, for himself, for the some that no one knows about. These songs take journeys, they actually go somewhere, or rather – they actually take you somewhere. This takes skill.

These go beyond mere songs. I returned to this one a few times. They are like little short stories, epitaphs, a small story hidden on page 42 of a newspaper, a forgotten soul buried alone on a rainy day with only two mourners who didn’t know him. No clichés here.

“Next Real Thing,” sounds like Andy may have listened to the late John Prine. That’s where stories like this originate. Andy with John Prine’s passing may have stepped up a notch now. These are purposeful songs. Not easy to write unless the songwriter has some experience.

Andy (vocals/acoustic guitar/octave mandolin/dobro/keys/hand percussion), Jeff Moehle (drums/Cajon), John Austin (bass), Will Walker (rhythm/lead guitar),  Drew Howard (pedal steel), Mike Lynch (accordion/organ), Noah Nigg (Wurlitzer), Mark Schrock (mandolin), Mia Rose (backing vocals), Grammy Award winner Peter “Madcat” Ruth (harp), Ian Gorman (banjo) & the Black River Tavern Choir.

“I Know,” is the catchiest among many songs. Memorable, articulate & delicate. The tragic “Tsunami” has muscle & drama. Excellent. The finale, “North Country Sky,” has a touch of the old Jim Pulte (“Shimmy She Roll, Shimmy She Shake” – 1973) in this style. I always liked it, & glad Andy continues the tradition.

The LP is filled with dignified, well-written & performed songs. The 45-minute LP: Available at https://andybakermusic.com/home

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