Friday, February 26, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 837: Sam Roberts

After an enjoyable morning out with a friend I came home and dove immediately into writing my latest novel. As a result I’m feeling energized and creative, despite the cold medication. So let’s take advantage of that fact and write a music review while I’m at it.

Disc 837 is….We Were Born In A Flame
Artist: Sam Roberts

Year of Release: 2003

What’s up with the Cover? A tree. A big beautiful tree in the middle of a field. For some reason this tree reminds me of the one that Drew Barrymore crashes her car into in the movie “50 First Dates.” Whatever tree it is, I like it and I would like to climb it. You’re never too old to climb a tree.

How I Came To Know It: I can’t remember. This album was a big deal in Canada when it came out so maybe I got caught up in all the fervor.

How It Stacks Up:  Sam Roberts has six albums, but I’ve only got this one. As a result I can’t stack it up against anything.

Ratings: 3 stars

“We Were Born In a Flame” is one of those records I almost never put into the rotation, but that is always a pleasant surprise when I do. This record isn’t nearly as good as the Can-con hype machine has tried to make it, but it is still good.

Sam Roberts is a Canadian rocker, who has a good appreciation for how to build a song in a way that combines a well-constructed hook with thoughtful lyrics.

This album’s sound demonstrates that Roberts is also a student of the music that came before him. Influences here are as varied as the Beatles, Blue Rodeo and even a little Billy Bragg. The resulting sound is an interesting mix of the recycled and the innovative, and a lot of what he does on this record, such as the way he uses the guitar as percussion, are commonplace in current indie music but for 2003 feels fairly new.

The album starts out strong with “Hard Road,” “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” and “Brother Down” all solid tracks. While I like the spirit of “Where Have All the Good People Gone?” the other two tracks did more to command my attention.

Hard Road” and “Brother Down” both have a restless energy that gives you the feeling of walking at a fast clip, while leaving you with the impression that you’ve still got a long way to go. These songs are less about a good hook and more about just having a strong rhythm that draws you in. “Brother Down” also has hand claps. Hand claps always make a song better.

After this good start the album loses its focus, with a few tracks that aren’t bad per se, but are all easily forgettable. This culminates with “Taj Mahal” which is a bit too inspired by the Beatles’ psychedelic phase, but doesn’t nearly approach their level.

The Canadian Dream” shows Roberts trying out a political protest song. The song is one of my favourites on the album, but mostly because of its groove. The lyrics are a bit obvious and uninteresting as Roberts laments the death of the Canadian dream, but fails to provide concrete examples. The specific is terrific, Sam!

For the most part the latter half of the record is good but not great, with the exception of “Don’t Walk Away, Eileen” which is a classic rock song. This song feels so timeless and perfect that while it was written in 2003 it would have been just as successful if it was released in 1965, 1985 or 2015. This is one of those anthem ear-worm songs that sticks with you for days after you hear it. If this song didn’t get Sam the girl, I don’t know what would.

The album strained the limits of my attention at 14 tracks and 57 minutes, and if it had been cut down to 10-12 songs it would be even better. Also, while not the album’s fault, my media player named all the songs wrong when I uploaded it making it hard to follow along. I’ve since fixed it, but it was a mild annoyance.

When I rolled this album I wasn’t excited at the prospect of listening to it, but it won me over yet again. Although “We Were Born in a Flame” is only 12 years old, I have a feeling it will age well. Decades from now we’ll all still be reminding Eileen not to walk away.

Best tracks:  Hard Road, Brother Down, Every Part of Me, The Canadian Dream, Don’t Walk Away Eileen

1 comment:

Chris said...

I agree that this album is a trifle over-long.
It does set up nicely for his later works, which are noticeably better. Chemical City and Love at the End of the World, are both albums that continue to get a lot of play at home.

He changed to the Sam Roberts Band in 2010 or so, and has 2 albums under that name. Both of which are good, but not quite a good at those 2