Red Sammy’s ‘Vultures’ is an introspective and laid-back poetic examination of life.
‘Vultures’ is the ninth studio album from Red Sammy, Baltimore singer-songwriter Adam Trice’s band, written during the 2020-2021 pandemic. It’s not more contemplative than usual as a result of its circumstances, but it is an album of warm, sometimes moody Americana that looks within, explores the world outside, and comes back home with new insights. His backing musicians are Bruce Elliot on slide guitar and electric guitar, Greg Humphreys on bass and backing vocals, and David Pearl on drums, percussion, and backing vocals.
Although he is constantly compared to Tom Waits, who is indeed an influence, Trice’s folky vocals are closer to Tom Petty’s, Jeff Tweedy’s, and Jason Isbell’s than Wait’s, with some of Harry Nilsson’s quirkiness. He’s clearly in the folk tradition of self-taught, unpolished singing and guitar playing, as opposed to someone with a PhD. in Vocal Performance. He doesn’t overseason the music and add eighteen fiddlers and ten Dobro players to get his point across. The Waits comparison may have stuck since he began recording his own mix of folk, blues, Americana, indie rock, and country in 2007 because of his similar simpatico with the Beat Generation and other iconoclastic American writers like William Carlos Williams. He even took the Red Sammy name from a Flannery O’Connor story.
The lyrics are sprinkled with Beat Generation references like “dharma bum” (the name of a Kerouac novel) and “like a vulture / some Kerouac karma.” The in-joke of the Petty-like ‘Kerouac Revisions’ is, I suspect, Kerouac’s tendency to resist revising his work, adhering to his “first thought, best thought” maxim that has felled generations of aspiring young writers. There’s no real intro to the song, and Trice comes out swinging from the first few seconds. He mentions Kerouac as though he’s one of his group of mates, “running like I’m free and dumb.” On ‘Lyin’ Low’ he’s hanging out in a leisurely bohemian milieu with “no need to rush.” He peers into seedy places for inspiration: cheap motels, dodgy dive bars, boho writers’ haunts, and shadowy underworlds.
‘Heart’ is another self-described “graveyard country rock” / heartland rock song which reveals the acknowledgement of anger, regret, and rage surfacing in moments of solitude, rather than looked-for Zen peacefulness. Trice ruefully looks back on everyday burdens and how difficult it becomes to start over repeatedly in life, no matter how many new beginnings one is afforded. There is a southern patina to some of his songs which may be from his time living in Houston. ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is slightly mournful but reassuring and accessible: “Don’t feel okay but it’s gonna be alright.” It brings to mind #19 of Kerouac’s 30 Rules for Writing: “Accept loss forever.” The sardonic and haunting ‘God is Good’ is the only real dark folk moment on the record.
The cover art shows a menacing image of a group of vultures sitting on the branches of a leafless tree, waiting. On the other hand, the Romans thought that vultures were a good omen! Take the Roman view that those patient birds are omens of good songs. ‘Vulture’ feels comfortable, unhurried, and open, like playing music for friends in a cabin somewhere in western Maryland or in a tiny Baltimore neighborhood bar on a cobblestone street. Trice should be more respected in his hometown and far better known outside of it. Starting here and checking out Red Sammy’s back catalog is time well spent.