Sam Sweeney adds a delicious topping to a growing solo catalogue.
Release Date: 21st October 2022
Label: Hudson Records
Format: digital / CD / vinyl
It’s all about me! And about time too as Sam Sweeney has done more than his fair share of trawling through ancient tune books be it with Leveret, Bellowhead or on some of his own previous releases. To coin a corporate term, the USP of Escape That is he does exactly that; breaks free of expectations and explores something more on a personal level. A reset on the writing process, the folk gene getting reprogrammed with the signature fiddle being the last thing on the menu.
He talks of a methodology that initially eschews the fiddle, relying on synth and guitar to create a canvas over which he could improvise over. And in that sense it’s a similar MO to what he does with Leveret in finding a groove with Rob Harbron and Andy Cutting where one of them will set off on a musical road and see where it leads, before passing the baton to another to lead. Fascinating to see and hear and on Escape That he’s absolutely nailed a contemporary take.
Sam is aided and abetted by a band includes the formidable Ben Nicholls on double bass, Jack Rutter on guitar and Dave Mackay on piano. The insanely talented National Youth Folk Ensemble protege guitarist Louis Campbell (just recovered from watching him play a showcase at English Folk Expo) also adds guitar while Sam strays from fiddle to whatever he can get his hands on.
From the cover art, you sense that something fresh and candid is contained within. The woolly sweater, perhaps a metaphor for the comfort blanket of the familiarity of folk music, in various stages of undress and dismissal; perhaps another metaphor for Sam revealing his true musical DNA.
The result is a genuinely joyous and uplifting collection that finds common ground where Sam’s love of traditional dance tunes and a personal obsession with pop textures and hooks come together. The eleven tracks carry a continuous stream of sparkles be they in the guitar lines and synth throbs that offer a hint of what’s to come in the opening few seconds of Ruby or the lightness with which the fiddle takes off and soars at regular intervals. It may even be in the swell that arrives as all the musicians and instruments build to a warm crescendo.
The key though, is in discovering and recovering great melodies. Tunes that can’t help induce a positive glow – like the ‘central heating for kids’ Ready Brek effect that older viewers will appreciate. While Yoddin offers a more reflective interval; what you might consider more trademark Sweeney fayre, the focus remains nailed firmly on a sunny optimism and a real ambition in challenging and broadening expectations.
That comes in what seems like channelling an Oldfield approach to composition, particularly in some of the synth and sequenced parts that drift into and underlie Under Gigantic Clouds and Deep Water Shallow (End) and particularly Westering where the arrangement builds on repeated themes. And then there seems a nod to the experimentalism of Lau where working with the style of Martin Green’s gadgetry provides the throb and chug to Don’t Worry, Trains and the gentle patter that accompanies Feet Together, Jump. The creation of mini symphonies where. thesum of the parts results in a glorious whole.
Back in 2017, in his address to the English Folk Expo, Martin Carthy highlighted Sam as one of the leading lights who could pick up the flame he himself has carried for folk music over many years. High praise indeed and Escape That bears the very fruit. Sam has some form with a growing library of solo work. He’s been most impressive as he’s visited the Great War, dabbled with unfinished violins and he’s unearthed and repeated. Escape That may be the pinnacle (so far…)
Sam and his band are on the road in support of the Bellowhead tour through November 2022. There may be some tickets left here.