Gig review: Sam Baker at the Radcliffe Centre, Buckingham
There are many remarkable things about Sam Baker, but one of the most remarkable is his capacity to hold an entire room of people enthralled not only by the music he plays but by the long silences in between. A note here and a note there is enough. The word “spare” was invented for Baker. He says as much by what he doesn’t play as by what he does.
That has, if anything, been amplified by the fact that Baker is touring this year with unorthodox guitarist Don Conoscenti, who seems to be perfectly in tune with the cadences of Baker’s performance, even though they are still relatively new to performing together. The result is a very different sound from the previous atmospheric fiddle of Tim Lorsch that filled in many of the gaps.
Baker has no new album since his last tour a year ago, but treated the audience to one new song – unusually, an out-and-out love song – as well as a cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”, inspired not by the Kenny Rogers hit but by a much darker performance by Mickey Newbury, who wrote the song. But his three albums to date offered much for him to choose from, including the deeply moving “Broken Fingers” and a number of songs from his most recent album, Cotton.
Baker now has the opportunity to add a second voice on occasions, and Conoscenti is performing many of the parts originally sung by women on the albums. His is a strong voice, however, and very far away from Baker’s understated semi-speaking style. They do not go together very naturally, and a little work may be needed for two-part singing such as the end of “Odessa”.
Baker’s popularity in the UK continues apace – much of the talk in the queue to get into the hall was of the distances that people had travelled and how much it was worth it. His open manner and modesty (he introduces himself to each person waiting for a chat and a CD signature as if maybe they don’t know who he is), his willingness to take requests and sign anything and everything, as well as his inspirational life story will ensure that his annual trips across the ocean will be eagerly anticipated.
Sam Baker is on tour until September 20. Full details at: Sam Baker on Backroads.