Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Sam Baker: Say Grace [self-released, 2013]
"Say Grace" itself leads, as well-limned a miniature as he's ever recorded, and he's got a bunch: one of many divorcees he's paid his respects, this one's better off than the orphan who's not an orphan on Pretty World, to say nothing of "Migrants"'s 14 dead with 12 lines in the paper to show for it. But still--there's a hole in her robe, she falls asleep to the TV, and she still hears her mother saying "don't give me that face any more." Baker's voice is no prettier, but his music is less rough-hewn--here cello, brushes, and Leonard Cohen harmonies, there Gurf Morlix's blues-tango guitar. And the literary ambitions are out front--the way "feast" rhymes with "rough beast," the Emily Dickinson quote he sneaks into "Road Crew," the Jimmy Cagney mythos that falls flat as such ideas sometimes do. The third-happiest song is "Ditch": "My crazy-ass wife/nutty as her brother/supposed to marry rich/according to her mother." Second-happiest is "Isn't Love Grand," about a gimpy schoolteacher and her fat husband wearing fishnet and leather when the boys are off at his mother's. The happiest is "Button by Button." Baker does literally believe it's a gift from God when a woman takes off her clothes. A-