Sometimes timing really is everything. The ‘Donald’ is everywhere. A man who, in the course of a presidential campaign unlike any other, managed to insult and denigrate just about every minority on the planet. And so it was, in the midst of the gloom and the bile emanating from across the pond, that a CD arrives from a young man from the mountains of Virginia who shouts, in his own understated way, of tolerance in the face of prejudice. Although released in the USA as long ago as November 2015 its relevance to the political discourse makes it feel current and relevant, and ripe for reviewing.
Sam Gleaves is an openly gay singer/songwriter/musician and his songs reflect not only his own personal musings but also, as in the title track, they tell of the courage of others who have suffered discrimination and have challenged ingrained prejudice within conservative communities within the American working class heartland.
These are songs from the mountains, old time country if you will, a million miles away from mainstream Nashville. There is a warmth and simplicity that runs through these songs. Sam is clearly a very talented musician but the album is really brought to life by the quality of the contributions of those accompanying him. Special mention for Tim Crouch on fiddle, the perfect foil for Sam’s outstanding banjo playing and highlighted on the old-fashioned love song ‘Let Myself Believe’ which Sam says is the first song he has written on the banjo. This song also benefits from the harmonies of Marcy Marxer and it says something about the respect Sam has within his peers that Marcy is joined by no less than 6 other guest vocalists on the album.
On ‘Angel in the Ashes’, a song that is both for, and a memory of, Joan Baez, Janis Ian provides perfect harmonies for one of the highlights of the album. A mention too for Cathy Fink, who quite apart from contributing banjo and harmony vocals, has produced a finely crafted piece of work that allows all the musicians to showcase their individual talents while fitting seamlessly into the whole overall feel of the album.
In his own words on the album closer ‘If I Could Write a Song’, ‘….a song makes sense of the way I am, where I come from, where I stand, in between, on and on, if I could only write a song.’ Sam Gleaves can certainly do that and his talent for song writing and his love of traditional mountain love songs are showcased in one very good album.
Tradition, warmth and fine musicianship from the mountains of Virginia