Had this album been recorded ten years ago, the lead-off track If You See Me Walking would have screamed "single!", but alas, the days of radio as a real influence on popularity of music and artists is past (at least, in terms of mass sales). Upbeat and poppy, the song's solid rhythm section and power background vocals on the chorus bring back those days in terms of the toe-tapping, head-nodding feel, but the days of AM radio have been co-opted by the mega-industry in search of mega-profits and, well, music has little place there judging by the drivel which floats through today's ether.
So it is a good thing that If You See Me Walking is an anomaly among the eleven tracks presented here. A good track—really good, actually—it should maybe have been sequenced much later in the album—say, sandwiched between the rocking "Pull the Plug" and the dramatic Americana-influenced Mrs. Sample (more about them later), neither really totally in tune with the other songs and yet perfectly placed to stand in sequence or on their own.
Sarah Sample's best songs are more in line with Never Close Enough, a lush and reflective look at troubled love. With a voice made for musical reflection, she takes the melody on an emotional ride emphasized by a sweet combination of piano and electric piano (the wurly?) and slick production. Not a groundbreaker, it is nonetheless easily in the upper percentile of pop releases in recent years. The use of very impressive dirge-like New Orleans style dixieland band drives Moonlight Band to the edge, helped along by Sample's reclusive and pleasant voice. Bonnie Raitt's musical persona oversees You Make It Easy which could easily be sandwiched between two of Raitt's earlier songs without an eyeblink. Things slow down with A Sunrise or Two, a superb song about personal isolation in marriage, topped off by totally fitting breathy and emotional singing by Samples and one Paul Jacobsen. Sample's presentation really shines on Noah, phrasing immaculate over great hooks and apt electric piano. Just to show you she has the ability, Sample presents If You Don't Remember, a throwback to early 70s folk, acoustic guitar and voice, the way Judy and Joni and Sandy might have done it. "Count the Colors" as followup is an automatic, the folk aura supplemented by some beautiful, floating pedal steel which takes it to that other level. Close your eyes and it takes you away. Sample strays into 80s power pop with Pull the Plug, an infectious rocker which could be the anthem for environmentalism ("We take and take/We use and use/You look to blame everyone but you/If we start right now/It's not too late/We can save our planet/We can change her fate"). Maybe not the most mind boggling lyrics, but conjoined with the raucous rockin' music, bingo! Mrs. Sample is hybrid of modern day westerns and rock music—lone fiddle leading into power rock and while it doesn't sound anything like Wilderness Road, has the same incredible energy as that band's classic Dr. Morpho's Revenge from their first and criminally overlooked early 70s album. While not in keeping with the flavor of this album, it overrides any objections by being what it is--- a damn fine rocker on its own. Tie the Knot ends the album, Sample and electric piano alone (adding acoustic guitar only toward the end), quiet, the kind of song one would play in concert as the last encore to signal finality.
Everything about this package says professional, from the sound to the song choices to the package itself. The majors could not have done it better and it does, indeed, sound major label. And while it is true that Sarah Sample breaks no new ground on this album, one has to be fair and say that about 99.9% of the albums released these days don't either. The thing is, what she does she does so well that that shouldn't even be a consideration. Give this a real listen and you might find yourself totally impressed—enough to bump (insert favorite artist's name here) aside occasionally. Maybe even enough to make you a fan. Of course, only if professionalism and slick production are among your criteria. And really fine music.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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