Sam Baker – Cotton
1. Sam Baker still makes music that hangs together by threads. Still coming to grips with the train bombing that left him mentally and physically scarred over twenty years ago, Baker took his new lease on life to examine the small things that make up this world. On Cotton, his observational style helps pull the threads together – the homeless and disenfranchised that dot our landscape on Signs, the hazy night and “bourbon and ice” clinking on “Moon” and his signature weave of traditional songs – “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Hard Times” from the last record, “Dixie” and “Meet Me in Saint Louis” on this one all mesh in a way that makes perfect sense.
2. Baker’s sense of atmosphere is second to none – most singer-songwriters tend to think of words as their only vehicle, but Baker knows the value of space and separation. Ex-Whiskeytowner Mike Daly’s extended solo on Cotton’s title track give enough time to reflect on the first half of the song, though the instrumental “Say the Right Words” gets dangerously close to Jim Brickman territory.
3. Cotton is full of characters finding love and losing faith. The Mexican drifter in “Mennonite” who finds love in the backseat of a car outside a West Texas watering hole, to the Nazarene in “Palestine” and “Palestine II” who finds that he “burns to save” a woman’s soul, before she leads him from the tent to the piney woods.
4. Baker wrestles with forgiveness – “Angel Hair” finds him “carrying a torch” that he would gladly lay down, but theres “no promised land in sight”. He certainly has some people to forgive in his life, from the unknown bomber to his father who leaves early on in the album. Baker closes with “Snow”, assessing our common threads as humans: we are all far from home, deep in snow, and have a long road ahead of us. Perhaps we could use a little forgiveness.
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