This is a review of "Close To Home" recorded by Serious Sam Barrett. The review was written by Makabi Johnson in 2009.
From time to time I go into Jumbo Records in Leeds City Centre and ask them who's hot on the local circuit right now in their eyes. Today the answer was Serious Sam Barrett. Barrett is a Yorkshire born and based bluesman who cites influences such as delta-bluesman Robert Johnson and country band The Carter Family. It certainly wasn't the sort of thing I was expecting when I walked in. Still, I have the utmost respect for the Jumbo boys and girls so I paid up and took my vinyl/CD combo album (£12.99)
My first impression was that it really is far more traditional than contemporary: not a hint of pop sensibility here at all. The sound takes on a very bouncy character thanks mostly to the jangly sound of the twelve string guitar used on every track. The vocals are stylistically appropriate and competently delivered, if occasionally getting a little too close to yodelling for my taste. Also Barrett seems undecided in what voice to sing: across the album he changes between a handful of styles from Dylan-esque American accents through to undisguised Britishness. Its a shame he can't find a more uniform tone because it would cement his style as his own and be something instantly recognisable. I'm sure he's able and maybe he will in the future.
The album has ten tracks and clocks in at a hair over thirty three minutes which is perfect. There's a real lack of depth in instrumentation so had it been any longer it would have got very tedious. In fact in some ways it was quite tedious. A few songs would have benefited from a more mellow guitar sound (of a six string) and it would have been nice to have heard a change of pace with one or two more sombre numbers. This isn't a big criticism, just an acknowledgement that while he does what he does well, he could do with branching out a bit to offer some more depth.
Song writing is Barrett's real talent. While as previously mentioned not in anyway pop-sensible the songs are enjoyable and well crafted. The arrangements provide a good link between the mood of the lyrics and the mood of the music, so while it isn't always easy to make out the meaning of the songs (without looking at the A4 'cheat sheet' he has included explaining them all) you can at least tell what feelings he's trying to convey, which is frequently an upbeat bitter-sweetness. Further to his credit, the traditional songs included are blended incredibly well with his own: I would have had no idea which were which without looking at the sleeve notes.
After listening through the whole album a few times I decided that it was definitely worthy of some attention. Its different, individual, very creative and if nothing else provides your ears and soul with a rest from over-compressed relentless rock. I'm looking forward to catching Sam live in the coming weeks and suggest you do too as I have a hunch that's the context to hear him at his best.