James Lee Baker – Impressions
With an album of covers, James Lee Baker successfully decorates the songs on this new CD in his own signature style. Somewhat like the late David Blue, Tom Rush & other contemporary singer-songwriters of the past, Baker takes the music through tight performances without much fuss. That’s not to say he doesn’t embellish them with character. His cover of David Gray’s “Living Room” is warm in a Gordon Lightfoot manner, but the backing vocals of Katie Marie (percussion) add pensive harmony.
Even during quiet moments, Baker (vocals/guitar) exudes a beautiful atmospheric Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) tone especially on Ellis Paul’s “Did Galileo Pray?” The song has moments when it sounds like the melodic coda to Rare Bird’s “Epic Forest.” But the way Baker applies his take in a similar style is brief, creative & lovely. Fine work by Laurie MacAllister on backing vocals which add mood & emotional resonance.
Baker goes down into low notes on “Nashville” a David Mead song maintaining good intonation, sincerity & color. Everything’s subtle & softly applied yet never loses its allure. Vocally, it sounds almost as decorative as Art Garfunkel from the late 60s.
There are some songs on the 39-minute Impressions (Drops May 6–Independent) that are ordinary, but are indeed well-played, done with good humor in a vintage country motif. Excellent quality ballads like “Morningside” & “Most Promising Officer.”
There are songs that won’t get airplay on contemporary country radio. So, they should be savored & shared through private listens where the stories can soak up in memory & not be commercially lost. While the tunes are well-chosen & good it’s James Lee Baker’s voice that is the centerpiece. He’s supported by solid musicians who not only play well but create the ripples in Baker’s musical pond.
Baker’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” is one of the finest I ever heard. He captures the lyric, understands it & possesses it as a first-class interpreter. A more fully realized song with lots of oats, straw & wildflowers is “Deepening of the Stillness” — quite good. I think they call music like this high-lonesome. Excellent backup. James Lee Baker’s a reliable vocalist & musician with good instincts.
Musicians – Roscoe Black (bass, backing vocals), Eduardo Barbosa (upright bass), Dave Scher (electric guitar, mandolin, resonator & bv), Doug Pettibone (electric guitar, pedal steel, baritone guitar & high-strung guitar), Michael Ramos (piano, organ, accordion, bv & pads), Joel Guzman (accordion), Joel Matthews & James Edward Baker (percussion/bv), Stasia Estep, Mary Margaret Dement, Shanna in a Dress & Molly Venter (backing vocals), Matt Hubbard (harmonica) & Javier Chaparro (fiddle).
Gorgeous color illustrations with annotations in a stitched insert adorn the artistic CD package. Quite impressive work by Zulfikri Mokoagow. Color photo: Sarah Randolph. CD available @ https://www.jamesleebaker.com/