Sam Walker – Point

Sam Walker is one of those local musicians who pops up all over the place. Previously he performed his solo material under the moniker 'The Muel', releasing several limited edition albums including the lo-fi 'Rough In The Bedroom' and 'Portholes' before culminating in 'Once At Everywhere', a more polished collection of songs which came out on Beach Hut Records back in 2010. For these earlier records Sam played pretty much all of the instruments himself and he performed a number of shows promoting 'Once At Everywhere' which transformed The Muel of the studio into a large live band, representing all the instrumentation heard on the record in various configurations.
For 'Point' Sam has chosen to work under his own name and to strip things back and keep them simple, but he's done this in an unconventional way. Catch Sam live as he promotes this album and you'll see what I mean, the recording is a very pure distillation of the live solo show Sam has put together. It's simply put on the inner sleeve of the album, “A One man band album performed live by Sam Walker”. Everything you hear on Point has been recorded live, played by one man in one take, as far as I can gather.

The album opens on 'Dreamtime' – vocals, electric guitar and drums, played by Sam’s feet! One foot for the kick and one for the snare, which Sam holds back until the chorus. It's nice hearing the bare guitar and vocal so exposed, it's raw but it's far from rough.

'Blood Cells' opens with a funky keyboard bass line, which continues throughout the song, driven along by a simple drum pattern created by Sam's fancy footwork. Having seen this track live it's impressive how Sam manages to play open guitar chords with one hand whilst the other keeps the bass going. On record it just all sounds right, a few simple parts expertly arranged. There's some studio trickery, in the form of delays on the vocal, which adds another layer for things to develop into.

'Truth / Sensation' is where things start to get really interesting as Sam introduces his Steel Drum into the mix. There's that keyboard bass again and Sam's emotive vocal, but when the beat kicks in with the steel drum there's an addictive groove between the house beat and the funky off-beats of the steel drum, which forms a counter-rhythm and a melodic arpeggio. It's quite trippy, especially when big reverb and delay swells on the vocals for the line, 'all I know is you and water on the cold, hard ground'.

'Back To The Stumbling' strips things back to a simpler arrangement, just drums, vocals and guitar much like 'Dreamtime'. It's a decent song but it's the first time I feel like the track would benefit from a bit more development outside of the strict one man formula, that is until an inspired change of mood for the bridge passage. There’s an atmospheric guitar motif and a falsetto vocal that transports us to another place altogether for a few precious moments before bursting back into the chorus.

Continuing with the same instrumentation 'So Easy' is a slower paced piece, led by a beautiful melancholic guitar part in the verses. This song is one of my favourites on the album, it’s simple and evocative. 'Steel Wig 1' is the first of two instrumental tracks, which explore the potential of Sam's percussion set-up, with melody coming mainly from the battered steel drum, a short, ponderous piece that moves things along before fading in a wash of delay after less than two minutes.

'Paris (Miracle)' is a beautiful, moody piece, performed on an electric piano, with a very percussive low end, and gently tapped foot drums. Sam's voice is at it's best, full of yearning as he soars to the top of his range on the chorus, singing 'everything you do is a miracle'. Then there's a spot of whistling and why not? Drenched in reverb it sounds luscious and it's another texture to explore.

'This Is The Blue' doesn't work quite as well, dynamically it tends to sit on the same level. It's a decent song, but one I feel would benefit from a little bit more going on – maybe a bass part or something like hi-hats coming in to mark out the choruses. I also feel like the guitar tracks on the album can skate close to being stuck on one level, as the more developed guitar parts demand both of Sam's hands, stopping him from being able to embellish the mix. For the most part Sam avoids this but I feel like this is a slightly weaker track, it's best moments are when things break down to introduce a keyboard melody, or when the drums change to half-time.

'Steel Wig 2' comes in next, another short play around with those steel drum capabilities, these sections on the album seem like a nod to what is a much more developed part of the live show, where Sam will happily go off on a mad tangent, improvising around the motifs he presents here in simpler forms.

Then 'Edge' closes the album in glorious fashion, a driving bass part from the keyboards and a drum pattern that seems a little more detailed than earlier tracks, enhanced with delayed snare flams. It grooves along very nicely, with Sam’s bruised vocal luring you in with the optimistic chorus, 'stand on edge of love/ don't run'. It fades out, leaving it’s mood behind to remind me that I should look up Sam’s live calendar and catch this inimitable performer in his element again soon. 

There’s no official launch date for Point yet, when we last caught up with Sam he was saying November looked likely but you can pick up pre-release copies on CD from the man himself at gigs. Check his website for details of where and when he’s playing as he’s touring the world this year, the nearest local dates are 25th October at Lewes Con Club and 26th October as part of Worthing’s Oxjam Takeover.

Adam Kidd
CD available at concerts