There’s something to be said about the ingenuity it takes to put a group of great musicians together in a great room to record great songs and having them all coming together in one take. Undoubtedly, James Lee Baker has just pulled it off. Coming as no surprise to Baker’s existing fans—No Depression once said, “to call him anything other than brilliant would be criminal”—his new album 100 Summers accomplished this feat with graceful execution and the backbone of timeless songs and stories. Out everywhere September 4th, 100 Summers is an eleven-song collection of soothing folk-song melodies that circle around a centralized theme; that of personal transformation. Today, American Songwriter premiered “Santa Barbara,” the album’s second single. In July, Glide Magazine premiered the album’s first single and video, “18-Wheeler (I’m Coming Home),” calling it “poetry at its purest — tender, touching and flush with sweetness, sadness, and sentiment in equal measure.” Pre-order 100 Summers here.
Recorded in one-take recordings at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberly, Texas, 100 Summers finds Baker working with an exceptional group of collaborators — among them, Chris Bell (the man behind the boards for the Eagles, Don Henley and Christopher Cross), Doug Pettibone (John Mayer, Jewel, Lucinda Williams), Roscoe Beck (Leonard Cohen, Eric Johnson), Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning accompanist Joel Guzman, Americana Songwriter of the Year nominee Mark Erelli, and Laurie MacAllister from the famed folk group Red Molly. “I elected to record at the most appropriate studio I could find, with the best session players I could afford and the right engineers for the genre,” Baker reflects. “I aimed to give this everything I had in hopes that people who are seeking it can receive it.”
The aforementioned theme of “personal transformation” rears its head more obviously in some places than in others—“Santa Barbara” being a good example of the former. The rejoicing refrain of “Santa Barbara, I have come to hear your mission bells ring” precedes Baker’s proclamation; “I am here to start a new life again.” “In a way, the second verse is a kind of double entendre,” says Baker. “While I’m talking about the city and its hay days and eventual struggles, I’m really talking to myself and trying to give a needed pep talk—’you were a treasure chest of the gold rush, once a dangerous and lawless place.’” Album opener and title track “100 Summers” explores a more subtle change; one that comes through maturity and reflection. “As I grow older, it becomes clearer to me what truly matters most in this short and fragile life we have,” Baker reflects. “For me, it is my family, my pursuit for integrity, and my focus on craftsmanship as an artist. While I am always learning, I am coming to find material things and adventurous experiences pale in comparison to the tender and priceless moments I share with my family and dearest friends.”
On the whole, 100 Summers reflects a noble effort in Baker’s ongoing quest to put pen to paper to song to microphone in a way that not only relates to his life experience but, universally, the lives of anyone who might listen. With his shimmering 100 Summers, that quest continues.
100 Summers Track Listing:
1. 100 Summers
2. Misinterpreting the Angels
3. Santa Barbara
4. Wipe the Dust off Your Bellows
5. Returning to Paris
6. A New Man's World
8. The Last Cowboy in Hutchinson County
9. Leave the Saving Souls for Later
10. Breaking Through the Sunbeams
11. If Eve Hadn't Eaten the Apple