Sam Baker - A Story Worth Hearing

The other day at my temp job I got to talking music with one of my co-workers.  It came up that I was in a band here in town, and when I told her we played folk-rock she said, "That's my favourite!".  I was stoked.  People hardly ever have that response.  So we got to name dropping and talking about our favourite artists.  She told me a couple of artists that I "needed to check out", and I repeated the names to remember them but I didn't write them down. 

It took a couple of days of her hounding me before I got around to listening to Sam Baker.  I'm so glad that she kept on me about it.  When I finally pulled up his most recent album (2007's Pretty World) to stream on Grooveshark I just had it playing in the background while I worked on LG stuff.  I usually hate putting on new music when I'm not fully listening because I can't properly appreciate it.  However, even with my attention diverted this one still hooked me in and brought tears to my eyes a couple of times.  The album finished and I just had to start it again, staying up way too late in the process, and finally buying the album off iTunes so I would have it for the next morning's commute.

Sam Baker's uniquely abrupt and staggered vocal delivery, combined with his earnest expression and elegant song structure are truly captivating.  When I discovered some of his story I was moved all over again.  It turns out his beautifully truncated and savoured style of singing is a result of brain damage and memory loss. 

Sam Baker was a victim of a train bombing while travelling in Peru two decades ago.  He suffered severe inuries to his leg, liver, hearing, brain, and left hand.  He nearly bled to death, battled gangrene, and suffered through rage and depression.  Over the course of his recovery, Sam had to relearn a vocabulary, and teach himself to play guitar left-handed, all while dealing with serious tinnitus.  Years later on the path of recovery he realized that a goal of his was "to do one good piece of art".  In 2000 he released his debut album, Mercy

Pretty World
is his third album, and it feels so personal and raw at times that one could almost think it was his first.  The track "Broken Fingers" is a song of gratitude and remembrance for the boy who stood beside him on the train, taking the brunt of the explosion and being killed by the blast.  To sing about trauma and overcoming the pain of your own disability takes such monumental wisdom and clarity.  In a society where handicaps are still so taboo to discuss, to be able to convey such a message with purity to those of us who are at times monumentally ignorant, one must truly be connected to the grace of this world.  I am overcome by the beauty of Sam Baker's observations and appreciation for life.

You can find more information about Sam Baker and his story on his website.

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