Sam Lee – Old Wow

Album Review | Cooking Vinyl | Review by Allan Wilkinson

I stand in the dubious position of being undecided as to whether I prefer live or recorded music. Both have their good and not so good aspects. In the case of Sam Lee, I tend to sit very much on the fence and find both thoroughly fulfilling. It’s all in the voice really, Sam being pretty much in a class of his own. His voice is idiosyncratic and mannered, yet utterly believable and convincing, which sits comfortably on top of all the arrangements. He’s a storyteller with conviction and expresses himself superbly well, appealing to a wide range of musical ears, both the intensely observational as well as the casual listener, not to mention the odd Peaky Blinders fan.

The Bernard Butler produced Old Wow is Sam’s third full length album and sits comfortably beside its predecessors, the first of which was nominated for the much lauded Mercury Prize back in 2012. The gentle nuances of Lee’s voice are expertly captured, especially in the quieter, more sublime songs, such as “Balfanen” and notably “The Moon Shines Bright”, which features a cameo appearance by the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, referencing “Wild Mountain Thyme” in a ghostly Wuthering Heights’ Cathy fashion. The songs fall under three similarly titled headings Heart, Hearth and Earth and tenuously explore these themes throughout the album, the notion that it’s all about the Earth, that any change has to begin at home and that it all has to come the heart. If “Spencer the Rover” appears as a favourite among Yorkshire folkies, especially those from around the Rotherham area, the highlight for this particular Yorkshireman is “Lay This Body Down”, a grim yet engaging free slave song originating three thousand miles west of the Pennines.

Choice Track: Lay This Body Down (NSV 495)