Of all the benefits of presenting Another Country, by far the greatest is getting to ask questions to song writers about work they have produced. Often I’m gently probing around career paths and trying to persuade guests to explain how they arrived here. Sometimes the artist’s own life eclipses everything and the songs take a back seat; then sometimes it all comes together in an extraordinary way.
On this week’s Another Country we shall host a session and conversation with Sam Baker about what, for me, is undoubtedly my favourite record of the year. I love it because of the stories, I love it because of the melodies and I love it because it floored me when I played it from beginning until its final note was lost in the reverb. Part of my love for it was my surprise at the ingenious production and atmosphere created by Neilson Hubbard where songs explode into sonic delights deep into the track, disturbing and confounding me at every turn. But none of this would matter if the singer and the songs weren’t full of vitality.
Land of Doubt is an album bursting with life. Take the tale of the Vietnam vet in ‘Same Kind of Blue’ where the narrator recalls of the grim task of ‘Charlie fighting Charlie’ way down in tunnels ‘crawling into hell.’ It’s a story we think we’ve heard before until Sam hits with the confounding sucker punch: despite all of this his protagonist confesses, this ‘was the only time he ever felt alive.’ Then, over a military snare and a elegiac trumpet the song blows up into a gorgeous final coda.
Then there’s Sam’s monstrous ‘Feast of St Valentine’ where he sings above a track which Doves could have conjured up. Stirring, anthemic and ultimately life-affirming it’s tucked into the album so deep you are taken aback by its intensity. Early on we hear the simple beauty of the voices at the end of ‘Margaret’ and then there’s classic Sam Baker valedictory message of ‘Peace Out.’
It really is this good. Sam’s own life means has the right to know the deep joy and gratitude in a simple phrase life Peace Out. In 1986 he escaped death in a train which was targeted by the Shining Path terrorists in Peru. He suffered life-changing injuries and his hearing is now so poor it’s miraculous he can make such beautiful music. But he does and he will make more. Join me for a very special Sam Baker session and conversation this coming Tuesday.
Elsewhere we’ll bring you some essential new Country Music from Carly Pearce, Luke Combs, Lee Ann Womack, Iron and Wine, Dean Owens (also produced by Nielson Hubbard) and John and Lily Hiatt.
We’re live from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday evening. Join me if you can