Horses and Stars is essentially a live album encompassing songs from Baker’s previous five albums and acts as a fine introduction to a body of work that has taken fifteen years to build. Live albums are tricky beasts, more often than not live albums don’t work, the event is lost in the recording and it’s near impossible to recreate the feeling and atmosphere of that snippet in time when the music and energy came about but this album feels like it’s being played right now, as if you’ve just arrived at the auditorium and are greeted by the husky, dusty vocals and simple guitar playing that makes Sam Baker’s music so crucial.
His story is one crying out for the Hollywood treatment and would make producers of music biopics rub their hands together with glee. In short, he was in the unfortunate position when back in 1986 whilst visiting Peru, his train compartment was bombed during a terrorist attack leaving him with terrible injuries and forcing him to rebuild his life. His outlook on life runs through his songs, acting as a form of therapy (lyrics such as those from ‘Broken Fingers’ “broken fingers, some things don’t heal, I can’t wake from a dream when the dream is real” show this) addressing subjects as dark as tar – alcoholism, drug addiction and racism all show their murky faces – but with an optimism that somehow manages to paper over, and, finally, repair the cracks and leave the listener not only entertained but also educated.
The recording sounds stark and empty, very little attention is taken to the audience, we’re not inundated with boosted applause and whoops of false praise, it isn’t that kind of music, it’s music to take in, to mull over and to appreciate and the bare production of voice, guitar, meagre harmonica and light percussion gives the listener no choice but to listen.
If you like your music with grit in its belly and a cast of characters to match any backstreet boozer, this might be the introduction you’ve been looking for.
Give Same Baker a listen.