November 26, 2009

Week 12- Sam Baker - Cotton

Sam Baker
C o t t o n

When I opened the tri-fold CD case of Sam Baker’s 2009 release C o t t o n I was struck with three words. On the inside the only thing that is printed on the case is “Talk about forgiveness.”

If you are familiar with Baker these words take special meaning. It’s a miracle he’s even here today. In 1986, while in Peru, he was a passenger on a train that was bombed by terrorists. Several were killed, including a family that was sitting next to him. Baker sustained mental and physical injuries including hearing loss, loss of words, and major damage to his left arm.

I mention this because C o t t o n is the final chapter of his amazing trilogy about dealing with life and death, pain and suffering. Part one, Baker’s debut album, released in 2004 when he was 50 is Mercy and part two to the trilogy is 2007’s Pretty World.

C o t t o n is a 13-song forty-five minute journey that will make you smile, cry, and most of all...think. Baker paints an image so vivid that you can completely picture the bitter life of a cotton farmer in the title track, the struggle with the world of your parents and the world of your own in “Mennonite,” and the inner conflict of an unwed pregnant woman in “Not Another Mary.”

There are three tracks on this CD that, in my mind, have risen above the other stunning songs.

“Angel Hair” is an amazing ballad lamenting a lost love. The simple powerful line that repeats itself throughout the song is “Not a day goes by I don’t think of you.”

I find myself listening to “Signs” over and over. Partly because I am moved by it and partly because my 5 year-old daughter keeps asking me to play it when we’re listening to the CD while driving. It’s a testament to the houseless population. “One sign says I am pregnant / One sign is upside down / One sign says I lost my husband / One sign says I lost my crown / One sign says I love Jesus / One sign says the end is near.”

The album and trilogy closes with “Snow.” It’s a song of morning and rebirth set in Boston. “First light on the streets are white and pristine / Waiting on the tracks of the city machines / This city is so pretty when the snow falls just at dawn.”

Baker uses his voice like an instrument, punctuating the point. He sounds somewhere between Robert Earl Keen, Adam Carroll and Todd Snider. The music is beautifully assembled with violin, cello, and mandolin playing nicely with slide guitar and electric bass. Kind of like if classical music went Americana. The combination is epic.

I mentioned my 5 year old earlier. Her take on Baker’s music is probably as good as what I could come up with. “The songs are memories.”

C o t t o n is a memory that should be shared with everyone. It’s a fitting conclusion to the spiritual and emotional trilogy penned by this amazing poet, wordsmith, and survivor.

If you’ve not heard of Sam Baker please do yourself a favor and go to and familiarize yourself.

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