Intimate, Wilco-esque country-folk-pop: warning – contains references to smoking crack.
New York ‘anti-folk’ singer-songwriter Sam Barron’s father was a former folk musician turned forensic criminal investigator, and his mother worked with severely handicapped children. The stories he heard via his parents’ jobs left a major imprint on him when he was growing up – so much so that it’s reflected in the way he writes about the lives of the troubled and unfortunate characters that inhabit some of the songs on his latest album, ‘A Prayer For a Field Mouse.’
We’re plunged into dark territory from the outset – the first lines of stripped-down opener, ‘Tallahassee’, are: “He left me for his wife – he went back to his own life. I flew south to see my family. Now I’m smoking crack in Tallahassee.” Despite its heavy lyrics, it’s a really pretty tune, with guitarist Jack McLoughlin’s wonderful pedal steel playing giving the song a beautiful, haunting quality.
There’s more smoking on the next track, ‘Interstate’ – “I’m on the interstate. Six lanes – wide open. Smoke in my veins” – great, loose, electric alt-country that has an early Wilco feel. Jeff Tweedy’s outfit also comes to mind on the breezy and rootsy folk-pop of ‘Taconic’, with its wry social commentary: “We are just lost souls out on the network – losing touch, doing whatever. You don’t own anything and your phone is always listening.”
‘Karaoke Queen’ is also Tweedy-esque – a pedal steel-drenched barroom story of a lonely soul who finds salvation through singing. Hold on – didn’t Wilco have a song called Casino Queen? Hmmm.
On the lazy ‘San Pedro’, Barron is a drifter who has “found heaven in a Mexican town” and rides a bike with no brakes “real slow,” and there’s some warm Southern Soul organ on the sleepy-eyed ‘Early Blue’, which hits you like the first rays of the morning sun.
While recording ‘A Prayer For a Field Mouse’, Barron fell back in love with his nylon string guitar and wanted to make an album that featured its sound prominently – he says he “got intimate with it”, recording all his parts in the boiler room of his apartment, during the early days of the pandemic.
With this in mind, producer Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields, The Bones of J.R. Jones, Soko) gives Barron’s songs, which are easily likeable, plenty of space to breathe and captures that intimacy – they are sparse yet immersive. Bass duties are taken care of by Byron Isaacs (The Lumineers, Lost Leaders), while Eva Mikhailovna (Eva & The Vagabond Tales) provides vocals and accordion – her harmonies really enrich the songs.
Commenting on his thinking behind the album, Barron says: “We are just lost souls out on the network now. Who knows where we are going to end up as individuals or as a culture. ‘A Prayer for a Field Mouse’ for me is about getting out of society’s dread suck, and into the joys of simply surviving.”
Amen to that.