American singer-songwriter and musician Andy Baker has a new album. It’s titled North Country Soul. But first, for those not yet familiar with the artist in question, a bit o’ background.
According to his official website, Michigan-based multi-instrumentalist Andy Baker is also a veterinarian. His rockin’ resume includes a trio of previous platters. His 2010 CD, Down, won “multiple awards from the Great Lakes Songwriting Competition. Baker’s 2017 release, One Fine Day, made him a finalist spot at the well-known Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition. In fact, he is once more a finalist in the contest.
Andy Baker’s signature sound is a mix of music genres. It includes Americana, blues, country, folk, and rock. His influences include the likes of James Taylor, Ryan Adams, Counting Crows, and the Indigo Girls.
North Country Soul
North Country Soul is Baker’s fourth disc. It includes 12 tracks. Baker leads the way on acoustic guitar, octave mandolin, dobro, key, hand percussion, and vocals.
He is backed by additional artists including Jeff Moehle (drums and Cajon), John Austin (bass), Will Walker (rhythm and lead guitar), Drew Howard (pedal steel), Mike Lynch (accordion and organ), Noah Nigg (Wurlitzer), Mark Schrock (mandolin), Grammy Award winner Peter “Madcat” Ruth (harp), producer Ian Gorman (banjo), Mia Rose, and the Black River Tavern “Choir” (backing vocals).
Track by Track
The CD opens on “Second Wind.” You simply can’t miss the accordion here. It’s got a memorable melody and is the premiere single to boot.
“Skywriter” is the second song. Again, we have another example of a noteworthy number being a bit overshadowed due to its placement. That certainly doesn’t make it any less worth a listen as it’s a good, little song-story about a big apology.
While it might not be a blatantly commercial cut, “Sixteen” is one of the songs that got Baker tapped for inclusion in the Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition. It is also a poignant, sincere song that Baker says is “a song that honors my youngest sister who died of a brain tumor at age 15.”
“Next Right Thing” is an alt-country anthem. An early fave of both fans and critics, it has some thinking of the late John Prine. It’s a great piece about making choices with which one can live. The next number is the quieter yet catchy cut “I Know.” This one, too, presents a simple, memorable message and features evocative lyrics.
The sixth selection is “Tsunami.” It is a strong offering complete with drama and tragedy. This was another song that helped Baker become a finalist in the Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Competition. He describes it as “the story of a woman who lost her husband in the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011.”
“Crossroads” is nest here. Not to be confused with the 1966 Cream classic of the same name, this one, like all the others, is an original. It cries out for inclusion in a movie soundtrack or at the very least the moment you drive away from your next bad situation.
Baker’s signature sound remains constant on “Running After You.” This is another cut that is a personal song yet still seems ready for commercial use. “Fixer Upper Blues” is a gritty blues-soaked song. This musical metaphor no doubt works especially well with live audiences in boozed-soaked bars. You can almost hear Baker introducing the band during an extended bridge.
Things quiet down again on “Fall to Pieces.” This slow song-story is both personal and yet nigh universal. “Love & Gravity” is yet another effective example of Baker’s songwriting abilities. It’s what Baker calls a “soft sci-fi ballad.” Mind you, it’s not so much “Star Wars” and it is “Love Story.”
The titular “North Country Sky” closes out this audio offering. This one has a pub feel to it. If you listen carefully, you might hear a hint of Jim Pulte (as filtered through the musical mind of Andy Baker, that is.)
Overall . . .
Overall, this album is a compilation of original, personal solid, song-stories complete with traditional roots music melodies. It’s the kind of stuff you don’t hear as much of anymore and yet you should. If you like such other artists as Steve Earle or Buddy Miller, you will definitely enjoy these tuneful tracks. So check out Andy Baker’s North Country Soul because it’s the “Next Right Thing.”