Itasca native Sam Baker's third album, Cotton, confirms his status as one of Texas's finest song-poets. His songs contain dust, drought and hard work, and are deeply Texan yet entirely universal. Baker was severely injured in a Shining Path bomb blast onboard a Peruvian train in 1986.
Houston Press: Many of your songs are place-oriented. Is place your starting point, or is it something applied after you've fleshed out the story?
Baker: It is part and parcel of what I write. I don't know how to separate the people I know and the characters in my stories from the places where I find them. They are entwined. I am drawn to that entwinement in other writers like Horton Foote in Tender Mercies, Faulkner, of course, and Flannery O'Connor, who was a master.
HP: Another recurring theme in your work is religion, particularly Christianity and how people stray, how we have a hard time living our beliefs, human needs conflicting with the scriptural instructions.
Baker: Coming to grips with God is one of life's great adventures no matter the faith. "Palestine" is the story of one family, one place, one tent revival.
HP: The inside cover of Cotton just says "Talk about forgiveness" on an otherwise blank sheet. What was the concept or the intended message?
Baker: That's a line from "Snow." Without forgiveness, life is an endless walk in a cold place.
HP: This record is very sparse, lots of soft piano, etc. How did you and [producer] Tim Lorsch visualize the sessions and the end product?
Baker: Our philosophy was to create the best art we could. We designed a supportive musical context — beauty, tension, resolve, whatever — for each song and for the entire collection. We worked with artists we like and admire. We hoped for the best, as we do in all adventures, including coming to grips with God.
HP: You have a very real and unique sense of man-woman relations. For example, "Not Another Mary." There's sadness and ennui and sometimes a sense that things just don't work out.
Baker: I haven't really thought of that song as sad. It is an emotional turning point — how can she do something as simple as say, "I love you"? Why not? She drives home at dawn, sees the red sun, the blue sky, takes a shower and goes to work. Just in time. Mike Daly's steel guitar playing is breathtaking on that one.
HP: Is "Odessa" biographical?
Baker: I worked in Odessa a long time ago. It was all story all the time. The women and men of Texas myth.
HP: What were you doing in Peru in 1986? Does that trauma figure in your creative process or do you consciously try to block that out?
Baker: We climbed ice to around 18,000 feet. We were young and strong and wanted to walk around the tall mountains of South America. I don't try to block anything. Conscious blocking is futile. Unconscious blocking is, well, unconscious.
Entries are now being accepted for the first annual Texas High School Rock Off, presented by Live Nation and sponsored by Fuse, Sonicbids and the Houston Press's very own music blog, Rocks Off. The competition, open to bands statewide provided all members are enrolled in 12th grade or below, will take place Friday, January 8, at House of Blues' Houston and Dallas locations. Houston-area bands can pick up an application at HOB Houston or online at www.sonicbids.com/texashighschoolrockoff.com. Send completed applications, a three-song demo and $60 entry fee — refundable if your band is not chosen for the January 8 showcase — to House of Blues Houston, 1204 Caroline, Houston TX 77002. Bands that fill out their entry forms online will be assessed a $10 nonrefundable fee, but only need to send $50 with their entry packet. All entries are due by 5 p.m. Friday, December 18.
99 E. Crosstimbers, 713-694-6800
1. R. Kelly, Untitled
2. Z-Ro, Cocaine
3. Rihanna, Rated R
4. 50 Cent, Before I Self-Destruct
5. Trae, Incredible Truth Mixtape
6. Birdman, Pricele$$
7. Swishahouse, Usual Suspects
8. Melanie Fiona, Bridge
9. Lil Wayne, No Ceilings
10. Willie Clayton, Love, Romance & Respect
KODA, 99.1 FM
Top songs, December 2, Data from www.yes.com
1. Mariah Carey, "All I Want for Christmas Is You"
2. Daryl Hall & John Oates, "Jingle Bell Rock"
3. Bobby Helms, "Jingle Bell Rock"
4. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas"
5. Nat King Cole, "The Christmas Song"
6. Leroy Anderson, "Sleigh Ride"
7. Andy Williams, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"
8. John Lennon feat. The Harlem Community Choir, "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"
9. David Foster, "Carol of the Bells"
10. Wham!, "Last Christmas"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)
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