The new album Home Again by James Lee Baker is the perfect fusion of California’s easygoingness, Coloradan singer/songwriter grit, British rebelliousness, and Canadian endurance. Featuring a lineup of musicians from all four of those locations, Home Again is by far the most splendidly diverse country album of the latter half of the 2010s, but its draw isn’t limited to the Nashville crowd exclusively. Baker has made a name for himself as the folk community’s second coming of Bob Dylan, and his debut LP doesn’t try and sell itself as anything other than focused Americana, but with the aid of some of indie music’s most curious performers he’s nonetheless managed to create an audio enthusiast’s record for the ages.
Home Again is a comprehensive look into the sonic profile of James Lee Baker. “That Look in Your Eyes,” “Disappear for the Weekend” and “The Canadian River” are surreally executed and much more grandiose in stylization than what you would expect out of most post-hipster singer/songwriters, but Baker is anything but unpredictable. Behind every corner, he’s waiting to surprise us with his command of rhythm and emotional songcraft, and even the most discriminating of fans will have a hard time finding a flaw in this immaculately produced album.
Nothing about Home Again feels constricted or limited in its expressiveness; the melodies are fully realized and complete even when they’re at their most angular and difficult to describe. Something tells me that if he had a hardheaded A&R department looking over his shoulder, James Lee Baker would likely walk out of the studio with disdain. His music wasn’t made for the commercial side of your FM dial, but in what can only be described as true irony, it’s probably going to be the one characteristic that pushes him over the top and into the mainstream eventually.
This business is defined by figures who have the intrepidness to dare to be different, and James Lee Baker asserts himself as such in the bluesy swagger of “Cowtown Blues.” Situated towards the end of Home Again, the song does much more than tie together the more opulent first and second acts of the record with the third; it establishes that Baker isn’t just a good songwriter, he’s a heck of a player, too. His skill as a guitarist and vocalist is on par with the best actively touring musicians in the world, and though he might be known for his abilities as a composer, his talents as an axe man deserve just as much attention.
He still has a little work to do when it comes to softening some of the rougher edges in his sound, but overall I would have to say that James Lee Baker is well on his way to being a top draw in both country and pop music circles. For all of the talk that there’s been about folkies seeing a decline in popularity as the 2010s come to a chaotic close, I haven’t seen any evidence to support the notion that roots music is going anywhere any time soon. Artists like James Lee Baker won’t let that happen, and that’s something that we can all be thankful for.
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-review by Jodi Marxbury