Acclaimed Texas songwriter explores beauty and uncertainty on June 2017 CD ‘Land Of Doubt’
Sam Baker’s new album, Land of Doubt, is quietly powerful. Lyrics are pared down to their essence, set against a stark musical landscape. This remarkable collection serves as a companion piece to his acclaimed 2013 project, Say Grace, and sets the stage for a number of creative projects coming later in the year, including a documentary, an original play, and a gallery exhibit of his visual art.
“For me, doubt is part of living. Part of being engaged in life, part of the great questioning of life. Curiosity can be fueled by doubt,” says Baker, who grew up in the small prairie town of Itasca, Texas, and now lives in Austin. “My life got better when I accepted doubt as an integral part of life. As the counterweight to hope and security. By accepting uncertainty. By learning how to live with the unknowing, I began to find beauty in the moment. Beauty in the act of being alive. And especially the beauty of music.”
Working in Nashville for the first time with producer Neilson Hubbard, Baker uses the ‘50s jazz trumpet of Don Mitchell and the sustained guitar textures of Will Kimbrough (producer/guitarist for Rodney Crowell and Todd Snider) to frame the lyrics. He breaks up the ten vocal numbers with five cinematic instrumental interludes. Setting aside his acoustic guitar, Baker plays electric for this project using atmospheric tones that linger in the sonic landscape.
“This record is a meditation, a reflection on day-to-day life,” Baker says. “The goodness, the struggle, the uncertainty. It gives me strength to share doubt. It gives me strength to hear others share doubt. With doubt comes clarity. With doubt comes hope.”
Land of Doubt gives Baker an opportunity to explore the universal themes of disappointment, trust and compassion. His recordings have garnered critical acclaim from NPR All Things Considered, American Songwriter, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Paste and Rolling Stone. Say Grace was cited in the Houston Chronicle’s feature of the 50 Great Texas Singer-Songwriter Albums.
When Baker first emerged 13 years ago, the dominant story was how he survived a 1986 terrorist bombing in Cuzco, Peru. In spite of the loss of hearing in one ear and limited hearing in the other, he steadily established a reputation as a first-rank singer-songwriter.
“After my event in Peru, I lived in doubt. I lived in uncertainty. The days, the nights. Life. Death. Everything that I had known was cast in shadows. Laden with doubt,” he says. “My eardrums were blown in. I used a Walkman and turned the volume up full so it rattled the bones of the inner ear. Somewhere in there, I knew there was beauty. I felt it. I felt hope. I began to believe that doubt – just as darkness – lifts, and there is joy in the morning.”
Five albums since launching his music career, Baker is now expanding his artistic reach by writing and producing a play (Broken Fingers), filming a documentary and staging an art exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Dream of the Snow Geese).
Baker says, “Looking back, I believe it was this land of doubt where I lived for so long that brought me hope. It brought me the power and gift of music. It was the seedbed for my early records. It was the seedbed for painting. A seedbed for the play. It was seedbed for life that made me want to offer goodness and service to others, and want to oppose to our worst instincts as a people.”
Nestled among the songs inspired by his international experiences, Baker also writes from a place of personal introspection. “Love Is Patient” is a poignant narrative about the distance that can permeate a long-term relationship. Later he reflects on a bittersweet breakup on “Peace Out.” The devastating “Leave” is startlingly direct – Leave and you must / you have squandered my trust. A soldier comes home in “Same Kind of Blue” to find that some things change, some things don’t, and some things never heal.
“There is deep beauty in Land of Doubt. The beauty of gifted musicians with a shared vision, offering their skills and voices in unity. The beauty of accepting doubt as a valuable necessary ingredient in life,” Baker says. “Beauty and meaning came from living in the moment. The moments free of pain and panic. It came from people – my family, doctors, nurses, and kind people who planted seeds of hope.”
Immediately following the release of Land of Doubt, Baker will begin a tour of Europe, where he has amassed a legion of fans who admire his captivating stage presence and perceptive songwriting.
“When Brexit passed, I thought that for my European and United Kingdom fans it must be a time of uncertainty. A time of change. A time of doubt. That’s when I began putting this record together as a reflection on doubt,” he says. “Doubt is the flip side of hope. I need both. Doubt clarifies hope. It makes it stronger. It makes it insistent. It is not to be denied.”
2017 CD “Land of Doubt”
Baker’s musical storytelling in Land of Doubt gives voice to emotions tender and bitter, personal and universal. Some songs seem to come from deep inside the well of his own experience, while others reflect empathy with and insight into the suffering of those outside it. Perhaps Baker describes the record best:
“I wanted a cinematic feel, a mixture of sparsity and tension…and beauty…I always come back to beauty on my records. That’s shorthand for something that's bigger than me.”
"[Sam Baker] extracts extraordinarily evocative ballads from the minutia of ordinary life."
– Austin Chronicle
"Sepia-toned poetry for the dusty downtrodden."
– Austin Monthly
"Maybe the most captivating songwriter in America."
– Lone Star Music
“A no-frills collection that’ll appeal to fans of artists like John Prine and John Fullbright.”
– Engine 145
“An artist worth waiting for.”
– NPR All Things Considered
“The Bard of the Workaday World.”
– Wall Street Journal
"Every composition has the inescapable ring of life and death."
– New Yorker
"One of the finest of the modern-day veteran Texas troubadours"
– American Songwriter (4 stars)
"He takes fragments of poems and hymns and discarded memories and weaves 'em together."
– NPR Here and Now
“Baker displays a canny knack for knowing what details to include and which to leave out of a song. He also doesn't spend his time staring into the abyss. His characters have been roughed up, but haven't given up on finding grace.”
– Andrew Dansby, The Houston Chronicle
“A strong literary element to Baker’s work. Some of the most vivid, compelling, truly original songs of any artist working today.”
– Dan Forte, Taylor Guitars