Sam Lee bursts onto the scene with his debut album, Ground Of Its Own, a unadulterated amalgam of innovation and tradition.
Formerly a visual artist, a teacher of wilderness survival skills and a burlesque dancer, Sam traded these gaudy occupations in for the life of a folk musician, spending four years under the wing of Scottish traveller and ballad-writer Stanley Robertson, learning the ropes of his new line of business. He picked up every song on the album from various gypsy travellers and song writers from around the country with the intention of re-inventing the genre of folk music, to effectively, give it a kick up the backside. And by God did he kick hard.
Folk music, for the most part, is shadowy. It is clouded with centuries of lost stanzas, countless interpretations and immeasurable translations. Sam Lee’s music and lyrics are one hundred per cent transparent; you can hear every syllable uttered and every instrument plucked. Lee’s sparkling discovery manages to alleviate even the blackest of subject matter. Recently Sam won the Album of 2012 in fRoots magazine, as well as a Mercury Prize nomination He shirks the use of a guitar throughout the whole album, obviously deciding it is too predictable, and focuses instead on idiosyncratic instruments such as fiddles, trumpets and mouth harps along with many other quirky musical accompaniments.
…an unusually upbeat ballad, full of vigour with robust vocals…
A song that particularly stands out to me is the opening track, The Ballad of George Collins, a smoky story of a deserted nymph’s poisoned kiss and its magnitudes. The old-style foot-tapping use of percussion instruments, full of twangs and barbs, creates an unusually upbeat ballad, full of vigour with robust vocals to back it up, the best possible start to this album.
Secondly is On Yonder Hill, the wonderfully relaxed trumpets bring forward the gypsy travellers ancestries of the song combined with vocals likened to that of a male Sandy Denny, the highest compliment you could possible pay to a folk musician who knows their worth in salt.
…In theory, it ought to not work…
Next, Wild Wood Amber is a traditional Sussex folk song conjugated with a 1919 recording of the operatic intermezzo, Thai’s Meditation. In theory, it ought to not work. However, much to the listeners’ surprise, it is refined, elegant and refreshingly new, truly a work of art.
My favourite song on the album, Goodbye My Darling, is an optimistic lament with a twist. The proposition of a hopeful future mingled captivatingly with an excess of woe makes this song an incredible listen. The sudden surge of percussion and violin add another fanciful dimension to the song, including the seamless use of a shruti box to add the Indian drone effects.
…the brightest start to an even brighter career…
Overall, this exquisite album is the brightest start to an even brighter career for Sam Lee. I wait with baited breath for news of a second release.