James Lee Baker releases new LP
The future sound of country music as we know it is being reshaped and retooled by musicians who are going against the style’s traditional parameters and limitations in search of finding a new way to manipulate country’s most beloved qualities. Some puritans have argued that these artists aren’t just swimming upstream, they’re breaking away from the core values and ethos that made country so special to begin with. I myself couldn’t disagree more and find that this new generation of songwriters and their experimentation is exactly what country music needs in order to survive and stay relevant in the 2020s. James Lee Baker is one of the key forces bringing this revolution into fruition, and his new album Home Again might be its centerpiece.
You can’t find ballads like the poignant “A Place For You & Me” every time you scan mainstream country stations on the radio, but if James Lee Baker’s momentum continues to rage on as it has in the last 12 months that may change sooner than later. Guided by a passionate vocal that is delicately weaved around a string arrangement that is as soft as a velvet sheet, “A Place For You & Me” is one of the best country songs that I’ve heard in years, and in a twist of fate it wasn’t written by one of Nashville’s hired guns. Part of the reason why Baker is such a breath of fresh air in this current music climate is his outsider wistfulness, something that the majority of country’s biggest names often lose along the route to superstardom.
Home Again was recorded not by Baker alone but by a group of musicians that he came to network with across the world while getting his start as a recording artist. It’s success is a testament to the huge impact that technology and social media has had on popular music and what it has done to advance the international songbook into the future. Just ten years ago, the idea of a group of musicians recording an album together across oceans, mountains and national borders without ever being in the same room together would have been dismissed as crazy, but now it’s become yet another way that artists of a like mind can connect with each other and deliver their work to the masses.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that there really is something for almost anyone to fall in love with in James Lee Baker’s new LP. Whether you’re a diehard country music disciple who misses the airy, relaxed drawl of the old days or a pop/rock fan who will do anything to get ahold of a slickly produced melody guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a swing in your step, Home Again brings the heat in ten of the most evocatively stylized songs of the year. I don’t normally say this about artists who only have one album and a handful of singles and EPs under their belt, but my gut tells me that James Lee Baker is going to be a big influence on younger singer/songwriters just embarking on their journeys today. To be honest, I can’t think of a more well-rounded artist for them to model themselves after.