The distant playing of an acoustic guitar is punctuated with a glistening yet smoky lap steel that guides us towards the vocal of James Lee Baker in the opening bars of the song “If I Stay Here With You,” a stellar slice of folk rock magic found in his new album Home Again. “There are many people waiting along this solitary road / This is who I am, What I was born to do, What about you?” he sings to us in a tone just above a whisper, inviting us to take him for the earnest musician and storyteller that he is. It takes a lot of emotional strength for an artist to bear themselves completely to their audience without any interference or cloudiness between the two, but in the case of James Lee Baker, there isn’t another way for him to get his message across. Music is his purpose in life, his calling if you will, and in this LP he gives us the exclusive chance to take a look at the world from the perspective of his artistry, which is both unforgiving and heartbreakingly relatable.
Keeping the tradition of the American troubadour alive is something else that appears to be essentially important to James Lee Baker when taking in Home Again for the first time, and he doesn’t hold back from telling us as much. Songs like “Stand Alone” and “That Look in Your Eyes” are reminiscent of a much more enthralling time for western folk music; a time where there was far less commercial influence over the genre than there is now. Baker has never struck me as someone who is hung up on the fame and fortune that comes with being an accomplished songwriter and performer, and his music is reflective of his humble desires. Home Again isn’t designed to play down to us or capitalize on popular trends within folk or country music at the moment. It’s more like a passage out of a diary; a collection of thoughts from a single individual who has found the most effective way of sharing his feelings via the sheer power of music.
James Lee Baker has more potential than any other aspiring artist (of any style or scene) that I’ve reviewed in the last two years, and that’s really saying something considering how many intriguing and thought provoking new performers have been coming out of the woodwork as of late. Pop music is changing completely because of the internationalization of the established recording industry and its key players, and I think we’ve all been collectively waiting for someone inspiring like Baker to come along and really lead the charge into the next generation of songwriting. His sound appeals to fans of almost any genre within the American pop lexicon, and his identity isn’t built around controversy or negative publicity. He has the chops to be one of this business’ heavyweights, and as long as he keeps releasing records as moving and compelling as Home Again, he’s going to be a big part of the conversation for a long time to come.