If talking about a song two days after you heard it brings tears to your eyes, then whoever wrote it must be some kind of crazy genius poet. That's my take on the dusty singer songwriter who played an intimate show in the Conspiracy Room on Saturday night. Of course, Sam Baker comes from Austin, Texas, where country and blues regularly ferment into intoxicating Americana.
But Baker's all-organic brew is extra special. And it'll catch you even if you don't know the musician's back story: that he had to re-learn guitar after a bomb exploded in a Peruvian train, killing the German family sitting near him and pelting Baker with shrapnel, piercing an artery and permanently damaging his hearing. Of course, the songs about that incident and the subsequent survivor's guilt are haunting and heartbreaking. But Baker's ruminations on a runaway lover and a blue-hatted barfly surrounded by whores and waiting to die are equally moving. The song that made me cry seemed to be an audience favorite: "Waves," about an old widower's morning ritual. Hearing it made me wish I'd arrived for more than just the second hour of the show, which I hadn't planned on reviewing.
Baker and the other musician on stage talked a lot between songs to each other and the crowd. Baker was casual, friendly and unpretentious, joking about his tendency to repel women and how he's one of those American acts that's bigger in Europe. Clearly, the tragedy he lived through and sings about is a big part of his appeal. But there's nothing less than genuine in his manner.
The nicely dressed audience were mostly in their mid-30s and up. Many of them had attended a VIP party with Baker earlier. And they were definitely Cyprus Avenue listeners. Bill Shapiro, host of the KCUR radio show, was in the audience. He brought Baker to the Folly Theater a few months ago for a Cyprus Avenue concert. Through Shapiro's exposure, Catherine Tronnes and Rod Parks were so moved by Baker's music that they decided to bring him back for Saturday's show. It's easy to see why.