Sam Lee “Songdreaming”

Cooking Vinyl , 2024

An open eyed in wonder stroll through a land on the edge of being blighted.

Sam Lee is without doubt one of the most important singers working in that vein of music we call folk, a name too small really to contain all that he brings to his music.  Yes, there are traditional songs – but they are reworked and reshaped to reveal new sides to their character, and new ways of sounding that delight the ear, and, on occasion on ‘Songdreaming‘ reveal a dark undercurrent of trepidation for the future.  Sam Lee takes his songs into a world of vibrant nature, diverse and strange and endlessly fascinating – and also a world that some would see better concreted over and the rivers turned to open sewers.  Sam Lee might be echoing another wise Sam: “This is worse than Mordor! Much worse in a way…because it is home and you remember it before it was all ruined.”  And that’s a somewhat apt thought because Sam Lee also believes that there’s a hope still to turn a corner and avoid a bad misstep – that much shines through in his voice and his arrangements even when things seem at their worst there is a gleam of hope and that thought that “they cannot conquer forever.

The support of long-term collaborator, arranger, and composer James Keay and producer Bernard Butler is clear from the start, with ‘Bushes and Briars‘ making an ominous opening to ‘Songdreaming‘ – it’s a song that perfectly matches Sam Lee as he sings “Through bushes and through briars / I’ve lately made my way / Oh For to hear a small bird sing / I make my peace that way.”  There’s an edge to the song, the main accompaniment is full of anxiety whilst the brooding electric guitar coda is nothing short of apocalyptic, mirroring Sam Lee’s doubts “Sometime I’m uneasy and troubled in my mind / Sometimes I think we’ve gone too far to turn it round in time.”  If anxiety can be beautiful then this is a beautiful anxiety.   There’s certainly a need for some kind of intake of breath after such a song and ‘Meeting Is A Pleasant Thing‘ offers quiet reflection on love and friendship, embracing a more positive train of thought “measure England’s miles with me your friend / Our walk is our release” which is lifted high by the supporting vocals from the Trans Voices choir, who also appear on the later ‘Leaves of Life.

There’s more rambling on ‘Aye Walking Oh‘ which sadly reflects on the pain of separation, and the weariness of the waking life with thoughts perpetually on an absent love and there’s no respite “sleep I can get none for the thinking on my dearie.”  The orchestration here moves the sad reflections of the lyrics towards an epic level of sadness and regret, a perfect accompaniment to Sam Lee’s moving vocals.    The nearest, perhaps, that the album gets to a “regular” reading of any of the songs on offer is ‘Black Dog and Sheep Crook‘ the pain glimmers but it’s a song that echoes through the mind with so many others’ interpretations – and holds a safe standing along aside them. The album closer ‘Sweet Girl McRee‘ a song that Sam Lee collected and has sung live for a while is a simple love song, and none the less for being that, with all the references to the natural world is makes a fitting quiet ending to an album that has sailed through a storm of emotions.

Simply put ‘Songdreaming‘ has Sam Lee singing at his very best, and his grappling with more overtly political messages in no way lessens the beauty, the heart wrenching beauty, of what he creates.  Folk is always being rediscovered, recreated and reshaped to make it fit for the future and in Sam Lee it is in the safest of hands.

9/10
9/10

About Jonathan Aird 2779 Articles
Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?
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