James Lee Baker
James Lee Baker‘s voice in positively heavenly and his lyrics are deeply inspirational and intimately connective. His superb storytelling abilities take you on his personal journey of discovery to the joyful and tender moments that we all share and experience. Ultimately, James’ music adds meaning to our own lives. He is truly an exceptional performer and songwriter.
With his stunning new album 100 Summers, James Lee Baker reaffirms the fact that he’s one of the most gifted singers and songwriters on Folk’s musical horizons. Recorded in one-take recordings at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley, Texas, 100 Summers finds Baker working with an exceptional group of collaborators — among them, Chris Bell (the man behind the boards for the Eagles, Don Henley and Christopher Cross), Doug Pettibone (John Mayer, Jewel, Lucinda Williams), Roscoe Beck (Leonard Cohen, Eric Johnson), Matt Hubbard (Willy Nelson, Billy Bob Thornton), Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning accompanist Joel Guzman, Americana Songwriter of the Year nominee Mark Erelli, and Laurie MacAllister from the famed Folk group Red Molly.
“I elected to record at the most appropriate studio I could find, with the best session players I could afford and the right engineers for the genre,” Baker reflects. “I aimed to give this everything I had in hopes that people who are seeking it can receive it.“
Indeed, his efforts paid off. Brandishing an easy and accessible folk-rock sound, Baker traces echoes of Gordon Lightfoot, Jackson Browne, Tom Rush, and any number of other tenured balladeers whose narratives found a universal bond. Not surprisingly then, the album’s flush with soothing melodies — the title track, Misinterpreting the Angels, Wipe the Dust Off Your Bellows, and Returning to Paris, among the many — that are so soothing and stirring that they find calm even in the midst of confusion.
At the same time, the message that accompanies the music rings with reassurance and resolve, stocked with emotions that strike a universal chord. It’s poetry at its purest — tender, touching and flush with sweetness, sadness and sentiment in equal measure.
“While traveling my journey, these songs came to life,” Baker says when asked about his inspiration. “I unknowingly was following the path of a centralized theme, that of change. It wasn’t until I was three quarters of the way through creating this album that I realized that each and every song touched on that central subject.“
He cites some specific examples. “Santa Barbara is about a divorce, but it’s also more about rebirth — the gift of a new identity that becomes your best persona yet as a result of the fact you’ve ceased to be your previous self. The Last Cowboy in Hutchinson County is a rumination on how the world keeps evolving and either leaves us behind or forces us to adapt to the changes. A New Man’s World offers advice on avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, a mindset that often seems to accelerate with age.“
So too, the new album caps a year of achievements. In 2019 alone, Baker scored a number of honors from several prestigious competitions.
Two of his songs — Returning to Paris and The Last Cowboy in Hutchinson County — qualified him as a finalist in The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival’s Emerging Artists Contest. Those same two songs also found him a finalist in the Wildflower! festival as well. In addition, he was named a semi-finalist for the Unsigned Only songwriting contest. He also qualified as a 2019 Official Showcase Artist at the Southwest Regional Folk Alliance (SWRFA). He toured extensively over the past two years, playing stages throughout the Southwest while opening for singer/songwriters Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert and becoming an established presence in the Folk Alliance community.
“What’s the use of having a studio full of paintings if they are never taken out and showcased to the world?,” Baker explains. “Art must be judged, and it takes courage to be that vulnerable to the world. We all have a gift to give existence, regardless of what we do. It’s our contribution to the furthering and betterment of our species.“
His exploration into Folk began in a stepping-stone fashion with his 2017 full-length LP Home Again, using the Fiverr platform to recruit session players from across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Four of its songs were gleaned for a radio sampler titled The Canadian River EP. The title track charted at #23 on the Folk music charts and another, Disappear for the Weekend, was included on two compilations representing the best new music from current Texas singer/songwriters.
The album itself charted in several folk and roots-oriented publications, garnering over 400,000 streams on Soundcloud and Spotify. That led to a number of enthusiastic accolades from several industry journals, music publications and radio programmers. Billboard cited him as an Emerging Artist to watch while No Depression hailed him for his “heavenly voice and talent for writing deeply inspiring and intimately connective songs,” rounding out its review by saying that “to call him anything other than brilliant would be criminal.” American Songwriter said, “Storytelling is one of the calling cards of this young Folk singer.“
”It’s still a challenging craft to be an artist, especially a songwriter,” Baker muses. “We take the emotions we feel, experiences we observe, and epiphanies we have and distill them into some form that is received by the masses. In order for people to be receptive to it, it needs to be relatable. At the same time, this now relatable product must hold a unique depth to it that is reserved for the esoteric place where the most profound beauty and poetry lies. A song must be as particular to one individual as it is universal to so many.“
Clearly then, Baker’s best efforts are still ahead of him and, with his new album, he’s an artist that will be well worth watching.
“How do I, as an artist, stand out in the crowd and bring something to the table that is worth the time of the listener?” Baker reflects philosophically. ‘That has been my quest and it has led me through countless voice lessons, songwriting critique sessions, retreats, workshops, prayers, and moments of self-reflection.
“With the shimmering 100 Summers, that quest continues.”
– Lee Zimmerman