James Lee Baker – 100 Summers – Independent
Upon first listen I can tell this is just too good for average listeners. It’s not a commercial effort but an artistic one.
James Lee Baker (acoustic guitar) sings in a warm timbered voice mixed with equal parts Buddy Miller & Gordon Lightfoot. Lyrically, he has the gifts of Leonard Cohen & Rod McKuen. There’s poignancy & poetry in his stories, lots of melodic lift & no drifting off into showboating. It’s obvious the song matters most & the performance is there to decorate it.
What will also be instantly noticeable is the first-rate CD package. Major labels could learn from this. A perfect bound libretto printed on good paper with info about each song, credits, color images. Just gorgeous.
There are 12 one-take recordings made in Texas, Massachusetts & Colorado. The independent release (100 Summers) is set for Sept 4.
Among the musicians are Matt Hubbard (mellotron/organ/accordion/harmonium/harmonica/hurdy-gurdy – from Willie Nelson), Roscoe Beck (upright bass/electric bass – from Leonard Cohen), Doug Pettibone (electric guitar/e-bow/mandolin/lap steel/pedal steel/dobro – from John Mayer, Lucinda Williams), Joel Guzman (piano/accordion – from Paul Simon), Javier Chaparro (fiddle), Kevin Barry (lap steel/electric), & Craig Akin (bass). Backing singers: Shanna, American Songwriter of the Year nominee Mark Erelli, Laurie McAllister (from Red Molly), & Mary Margaret Dement.
“Wipe the Dust Off Your Bellows,” has the same melodic beauty (as Adam Mitchell’s classic “The French Waltz.” A beautiful tune covered by many).
Just about every song is perfectly composed & performed. The ones that aren’t so impressive still possess a potent beauty that will catch an ear. It’s just such a complete collection of deftly balanced music & lyrics. It’s more for mature listeners than younger people, though young singer-songwriters would learn valuable lessons from Baker’s efforts.
Lots of looking back, reminiscing & serious topics. Some are upbeat but there’s no foot-stomping or barn-burning. Baker tells a good story, frames each in compelling melodies & uses lyrics many songwriters don’t have in their vocabulary.
There’s nothing awkward, cliched & to a degree, like Townes van Zandt he elevates the genre of country/folk music to an artistic level.
Many are short-stories. Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway – simplicity in fascinating song tales. He even bests John Mellencamp & Bruce Springsteen with “The Last Cowboy in Hutchinson County.” Brilliant songwriting.
If you seriously enjoy intense well-crafted songs sung with precision & grace, lived-in songs – James Lee Baker will be a comfortable listen. Though there are others in this genre – James sews his melodic notes to words as meticulously as Leonard Cohen or John Prine once did. Since they have passed, we need more of their style. Baker is a shoo-in. His somber yet lovely tunes are thought-provoking. It breathes in your ears; simmers in your heart & stays with you even after the CD ends.
It will be hard to pick a favorite. The 49-minute CD was produced by Chris Bell (Eagles, Don Henley) & James. Available at: https://www.jamesleebaker.com/