This is a review of "Serious Sam Barrett" recorded by Serious Sam Barrett. The review was written by Katie Thirkill in 2012.
If you didn't know that Sam was a born and bred West Yorkshire lad, brought up on his dad's record collection and bombing hills on his skateboard, you could be forgiven for thinking the bluegrass country croonin' coming from your speakers was crafted by a middle-aged Alabama native. Sam writes sore love songs for the broken-hearted dreamers amongst us and he does so in a style that nobody outside of the Deep South has touched on before. He skilfully marries 12 string guitar, banjo and resonator chords with natural and smooth vocals, earning himself and his music the moniker of 'Yokshirecana'. His dedication to his work is evident, even going as far as setting up his own DIY record label - Ya Dig? - to put out the releases.
The new LP opens with Alf's Song which is a noble and upbeat song Sam wrote for his granddad. It's technically sound and the guitar is light and quick, telling it's own tale. Through the line "he was the greatest man I ever saw" it's clear what Sam's sentiments are for this man.
Next up is Hurry Back which was quickly identified as my favourite song from the LP. It's a song written with honesty - honesty that can only be drawn from a real and familiar experience. The lyrics are sad albeit cheeky, an example being "besides I figured you'd want a piece of me", a line I imagine Sam singing with a coy wink. The verses are perfectly matched and consistently show off his original writing ability. It's a catchy gem of a tune and sticks in your head and heart long after the record has finished.
The third track is Hennessy Nights. This one makes me think of summer nights spent in the bars of Leeds, drinking and laughing while everyone's your friend then inevitably walking home through the park as the birds are waking up. "Like fools, like boys pretending to be men" spells out a vivacious tale of growing up, loving life and spending your last £20 on whiskey.
The guitar talent truly shines through on Spiderweb Frame. It boasts the kind of romantic melodies you will only ever find in authentic folk and country songs - all working in perfect harmony, all pouring out so gracefully. This song is a shining example of Yorkshirecana.
Streetlights is about missing those places we call our second homes. It's almost as if it was written during a moment of despair and a sleepless night. The line "the south is callin' and it's more than I can take" gives us insight into the dreams of a frustrated musician craving the open road and to play his guitar to a different crowd each night.
The ballad Kerosene is a broken-hearted tale of saying goodbye, knowing you can't be there to watch over the one you loved. Slow strums float along with the lines "I'll be gone again soon, but I'll never forget you, stay away from those that hurt you and make you feel bad", which aren't bitter words, the opposite in fact and it surely puts a lump in my throat. Sam says in his cover notes it's the saddest song he's ever wrote.
16 Again is obviously a song about being young again (oh and booze, of course!) It's a fond filler to the record and is in keeping with the theme, sitting modestly between it's counterparts.
The open-letter style to Holding Out seems to be addressed to 'the one'. It's about searching and keepin' on keepin' on even though your heart has been shattered before. This song has it all, soft hopeful verses with more of the signature guitar playing.
Dreams is a catchy and softly-sang tune, while the guitar is quick and charming. It's definitely one of the more carefree songs on the LP.
Long Gone is the last song of the 10 tracks. Once again a beautiful ode to heartbreak and booze - the recurring theme of the record. The guitar is heavy and slow, yet while it's full of regret it's a song of acceptance. The line "...whiskey goes down like it's gone outta style and I just wanna be alone for a while" is haunting. It is a stunning song to wrap up with.
The whole LP evokes some intense nostalgia. Sam is the ultimate storyteller and he has the flair for making us feel as if we're living through the memories within the songs. I once put him on at The Brudenell in Leeds and halfway through his set, during 'The Lullaby of Leeds' (from the release Close To Home) I broke down in tears and afterwards Sam told me it was a really emotional set for him. This proves that he has the capability to pull in his audience, giving us a true insight to his music and feelings. The way he performs is very frank, no holds barred. He stands with just his beloved guitars for company, throwing out truly heartfelt songs in upright style.
I challenge anybody listening to say they've never been in the situations Sam is singing about. It's impossible to not feel that familiar heaviness inside, while reminiscing about the past and looking forward to the future with a tip of your glass. A true talent, Serious Sam Barrett is a hopeless romantic, a whiskey lover, a skater, a Yorkshire man. And all this is evident on the new LP, which is clearly a recipe for some of the best country music to ever come from outside of the American country.