This is Sam Slatcher's first full solo album. Sam is a singer-songwriter who until now has been most noted for his community work, mainly with refugees in Durham where he is based. Previously he has released an EP ("In Unlikely Places" 2018) and was the main driving force behind the community collaborative music project "Stories of Sanctuary" in the same year. This album gives Sam the opportunity to focus his writing on a more personal space, while many of the themes of earlier projects reveal themselves here too: a search for personal peace in a troubled world; the meaning of "home"; the passing of time.
The album opens with a catchy, bright and optimistic song about finding new love and new hope in a new home. The listener is immediately attracted to Sam's crisp and delicate guitar work which complements his soft and expressive vocals.
"Somewhere Between" continues with the meditation on migration, displacement and finding a settled place to call home, set against a national resurgence in nostalgia and insularity. This is a song with a darker, more unsettling undercurrent emphasised by the chorus of backing vocals reminiscent of Russian male voice choirs.
The first single from the album follows. "Can't Move The Mountain Today" is a sweet, reassuring song set to a gentle Latin rhythm that urges patience while offering reassurance. Nikki Dravers' cello is prominent and very effective on this track.
"February Storm" sums up for me what Sam Slatcher does so well. A delicate and simple song structure pared back to just Sam's guitar and vocal with some light piano accompaniment becomes a vehicle for a totally serious theme - a frustration with the fractious state of society and the nastiness it has revealed. A recurrent and very attractive aspect of Sam's music is his ability to fully confront the sometimes cold, harsh reality of life with a determined optimism and determination that things can, must and will get better. It's this lack of cynicism without any trace of cloying naivety that makes Sam's music so uplifting and refreshing.
"Mindlessly" is a reflection on how youthful aspirations become muddied and compromised over time as "life" puts other strains and stresses on us, and rushes by without us even noticing. This leads straight into "Between Breaths" an atmospheric instrumental piano piece that is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's piano musings on "Paprika Plains". In turn this leads directly into a beautiful and very moving song - "You Are More Than Your Mind" that along with "Springtime" illustrates well the full range and beauty of Sam's voice, which while delicate and fragile always has an underlying strength and certainty.
"Nether Springs" is a plea to abandon, just for a day, our addiction to phone screens and our automatic response to each ping and notification, in favour of looking up and outwards and making the effort to reconnect with nature and our true selves. It's a lovely arrangement with finger-picked guitar and keyboard complementing each other perfectly.
The closing song "Lanterns in the Night" reinforces Sam's determined optimism in the face of dark times. It has the feel of a Broadway show tune combined with "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and is an uplifting way to finish the album.
Sam says that he brought forward the release of "Chaos and Solitude" as, although it was written more to reflect the growing political and social divisions in British society in the last few years, it seemed to fit well with the turmoil and confusion the whole world is dealing with in the Covid-19 pandemic. The album title couldn't be more appropriate!
This is music for curling up with on the sofa on a rainy day, with a hot drink - and just soaking up the warmth and brightness that it exudes. Sam has made something very beautiful, that uses soft thoughtful tones to deliver a powerful overall message. Anger and frustration are transmuted into kindness and reassurance and hope. It's a lovely, perceptive, thoughtful and thought-provoking piece of work and a very promising debut solo album from a skilful and original songwriter and musician.
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