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T S Baker
To be added when I get time:-
The New Amsterdams - Worse for the Wear (Vagrant, 2003)
Greatly resembling the charming pop of Ben Folds, the dBs, They Might Be Giants, or early Matthew Sweet, the New Amsterdams are the more laid-back sound of Matt Pryor's divided soul. He is best known in the States as the front man of Kansas' indie "emo" pop punk band The Get Up Kids, and the New Amsterdams is his side project, much as Blur's Damon Albarn has Gorillaz.
The third album of this gentler fare, Worse for the Wear, enables Pryor to express his enthusiasm in a more confessional mode, albeit in a more cheerful stance. His quick, crafted songs have catchy hooks that make up for a thin but endearing voice that is greatly reminiscent of Chris Stamey of the dBs. His lyrics are thought-provoking but never profound, one of the slightly more memorable lyrics being "your arrows don't have poison but they bruise" from the foot-tapping Poison in the Ink, which begins like a 50s-style Mavericks song. A couple of tracks are so mellow, they become almost sluggish, such as the still winsome Hanging on For Hope, a ballad one could see Hootie and the Blowfish crooning through, but most of the tunes between Pryor's pump organ instrumentals that open and close the album are exceedingly mellifluous songs that warrant repeated plays.
Joined by fellow Get-Up Kids Ryan Pope on drums and Robert Pope adding meticulous bass, along with Ed Rose on guitar, Pryor and his merry band caught my eye when I saw two of them perform The Spoils of the Spoiled on the Late Show with David Letterman and thought, ironically, how they looked like such ordinary, innocent kids not yet touched by the pressures and temptations of fame. Little did I realise then that I was watching seasoned performers deliver a song from an album written whilst touring the country that touches upon some of those themes, such as the heartache of being away from home in From California or disgust at Hollywood celebrities in Hover Near Fame, the latter on which Pryor sounds remarkably like They Might Be Giants over fluid Ben Folds-type piano.
A particular highlight is The Spoils of the Spoiled, which builds on its upbeat foundation to an outburst of emotive regret over ignored opportunities through lyrics such as "Goddamn these idle hands as hindsight can / Our hopes and plans are unfulfilled. / It's overwhelming." The relaxed rhythm and simple but unforgettable gentle tune of Are You True is another standout track, as are the peaceful but unshakeable hooks over a gaggle of keyboards on All Our Vice and the frustrated misery of the title track that touches on a recurrent theme of watching life pass by whilst accomplishing nothing.
That fear surely cannot be one Pryor feels himself. Life probably struggles to keep up with him, never mind pass him. He has a young daughter, a mail-order business, a recording studio, frequent tours of the States, and two bands to worry about, yet he devotes sufficient skill to the sombre bitterness dressed up in happy tunes that forms this tremendously gratifying album.
Listen to Samples Here: Amazon.com or New Amsterdams site (the latter has lesser songs on show)
I bought mine here: Amazon.co.uk as an import
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T S Baker - Through the Shadows
East Coast-based American songstress T S Baker performed in the 90s as half of the award-winning eclectic folk duo Stan Moeller & T S Baker, who opened shows for the likes of Patty Larkin, Donovan and Roger McGuinn. With Moeller now pursuing a career as an artist of the painting persuasion, Baker has applied her immense talents as singer, songwriter, arranger and producer to releasing her first solo album, Through the Shadows (Go Figure Records, 2003).
Sounding remarkably like Dar Williams at times, but lacking quite the sharp academic wit and often bitter bite of Dar's lyrics, Baker clearly shows promise for continuing to develop into a loud, uh, noise on the folk/country scene.
Although I refer to country, the album cannot fairly be limited to that description, particularly as I am not a country fan but greatly enjoy almost every track on this album. Baker excels at acoustic ballads with infectious refrains, playing acoustic guitar and keyboards herself whilst her fellow musicians supply the usual ingredients of a band (drums, bass, and on only two tracks: electric guitar) as well as strings, diabro and some engaging harmonies. Woody Allen even plays acoustic lead guitar on Into Your Hands, but somehow I doubt he's the film director....
Particularly strong tracks on the album are the cheerful Dar-like I Can See the Rain, the fun and uncannily Dar-ish Private War laced with cello, the lovely Save for the Moon, the sluggish post break-up tale presented in fantastic gentle beauty on After the Before (I'm a bird that flew into your glass door / You're a darkened room, a hidden corner That I can't explore), the gorgeous harmonies over solitary piano on the love song You Save Me (I've learned more from you than anyone on Earth / That you believe in me is true measure of my worth), the lovely--albeit sometimes almost cheesy--song about missing a loved one Into Your Hands, and the brilliantly upbeat and catchy (again Dar-like) remarkable track Welcome Home, with stunning harmonies singing of acceptance and friendly support during new challenges--such as going solo, perhaps (If you keep believing and you trust in what you feel / The best flight comes when you take your hands off of the wheel). Baker even bravely includes a pretty a cappella song called Heaven, which starts out like the girl bands of the early 60s but loses its way somewhere and ends up sounding like it belongs in a Disney film.
Her voice not only shares many remarkable qualities with Dar Williams but also has a range that could compete with Heather Nova. Its thankful lack of a twang (and the fortunate absence of a lap steel guitar) makes even her few more country-based songs sound like fresh acoustic pop, and the weaker The Lucky One is even reminiscent of early pre-sex-kitten Olivia Newton-John.
Despite so many instantly likeable tracks, the feeling that many of them do not quite reach the great heights they promise prevents me from recommending this album on one of the 'recommended' pages, which I reserve for knock-out, five-star albums. Still, it is a narrow miss, and I imagine that her next album will be there, since this one is certainly no loser and I can still highly recommend it. Through the Shadows is a pleasure to play repeatedly, an album I continue to enjoy. Any fans of Shawn Colvin, Dar Williams or easy acoustic folk-pop with delightful melodies presented with attractive harmonies should investigate further by ordering this album soon.
Listen to Samples Here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tsbaker3
I bought mine here: http://www.fishrecords.co.uk/
Copyright © 2003 by TC. All rights reserved.
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