It was with great pleasure that the Jumping Hot Club announced this concert was ‘Sold Out’ over a week before it took place; because Sam Baker has been a regular visitor in recent years, originally playing to a handful of people but ever larger audiences each visit.
On this occasion Carrie Elkin was billed as the support act but tonight she joined Sam and piano player Chip Dolan as a full band member; opening the show with an exquisite accapella American Trilogy then complimenting Baker’s soft Texan drawl with harmonies and occasional crystal clear lead vocals.
The first set was made up of songs from Baker’s latest album, Say Grace which has been receiving 5 star reviews in Americana and Roots websites and publications across the world but were virtually unknown to the audience who went on to clear three boxes of CD’s at the end of the evening.
With a roomful of adoring fans, each new song was received with rapturous applause, with title track Say Grace, Road Crew and the thought provoking Migrants both leaving the fans grinning their approval as the applause shook the theatre walls.
One of my favourite tracks on the album took on a whole new life when Carrie Elkin provided some of the most beautiful vocals to the opening verse then harmonised with Sam for four minutes of musical heaven.
At this stage I realised that the songs all appeared to be about 1/3 slower than on the album; but this added an intimacy and intensity that only the best singer-songwriters can achieve.
For the song Ditch Elkin strapped on a piano-accordion; but, unusually used it as a washboard on one of the few songs with more light than shade and a chorus to be proud of. She also debuted her clarinet skills on Isn’t Love Great?; but the less said about the better.
Although this was most definitely a Sam Baker concert I appear to be mentioning Carrie Elkin rather a lot; but she really was in danger of stealing the show whenever she sang.
The second set began with a well worn Baker favourite, Things Change, and this time it was Chip Dolan’s turn in the spotlight as his piano introduction wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a concert hall; rather than a rock gig.
Apart from explaining that he was wearing glasses because his hearing was getting worse (it helped him lip read), unusually Baker kept his stories to a minimum tonight; probably because he wanted to cram as many songs in as possible; and I’m glad he did as Baker classics like Panhandle Winter and Odessa took on a whole new life with the addition of Carrie’s crystal clear voice.
In a world full of singer-songwriters the only one I can compare Baker to would be Randy Newman; because of his dry sense of humour, rye observations and brave choices of subject matter to sing about; which brings me to Migrants, about the Mexican workers who are smuggled across the border to make a living in the land of the free; but often get lost and die in the desert; which is the story-line here. The song was so touching and Dolan’s maudlin use of the accordion had the crowd sniffing back tears as they gave a standing ovation.
As the minutes ticked by fans called out for favoured songs in a most unseemly manner; especially baring in mind the average age was over 50; and they should know better, but Baker finally relented and performed a haunting version of Odessa which (again) featured Elkin’s beautiful voice on the chorus of ‘Hard Times/Hard times/Come again no more.’
One feature of Baker’s UK tours is always getting his Tour Manager to join him for a couple of songs; but this Road Wrangler is special and indeed; legendary - as Baker says in his introduction Miss Rebecca Kemp has the voice of an Angel; as she proved on the tale of a hard working, hard living blue collar worker Iron; when she takes the place of the wife stuck at home.
The evening ended with final song on Say Grace; Go in Peace and as with all Sam Baker songs, it came from the heart without even the hint of irony.
Another great night from Sam Baker and my only disappointment was the lack of local singer-songwriters in the audience to see a master craftsman on stage.