“Solo” – Sam Lewis

4 stars (out of 5)

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There are a few people whose work always gets my attention; Sam Lewis is one of those. The first thing you need to know about Sam is that his voice is a phenomenon. He sounds great on the studio material but live he’s something else. His voice is equally convincing with soul, country and blues stylings and he writes a pretty good song as well. He’s been compared with the greats and he’s worked with quite a few of them as well. In a live setting he’s very laid-back, relaxed and happy to shoot the breeze between songs; the whole experience has the feel of someone doing something that he knows he’s really good at and doesn’t have to strain to get right in that environment.

The idea of a live album recorded on the floor at the famous Southern Ground studio has a certain logic to it. One voice and one guitar (plus good acoustics); there’s nowhere to hide and it’s a huge test of the quality of the songs when you take away the studio techniques and leave just the ideas and emotion. If you’ve seen Sam live you know that he can do it, so it’s just a question of getting the recording right and there you have it – bottled essence of Sam Lewis.

I’m guessing that the album is a start-to-finish record of Sam’s set; at nineteen songs, it feels like a single set, coming in at about the hour mark. It’s a pretty good mix of songs from across his three studio albums plus four previously unreleased songs; for any fan, it’s a great souvenir of his work so far and some of your favourite songs are bound to be there. Standouts for me were “3/4 Time” (which isn’t), “Virginia Avenue” and “Waiting On You” (which are all from my favourite Sam Lewis album, “Waiting On You”), but I was also spellbound by the autobiographical “Southern Greek Tragedy” from Sam’s first album, which unsentimentally tells the story of a broken family and an itinerant childhood. High fives to the audience as well; they listen when Sam plays and applaud when he finishes. I’m privileged to see a lot of gigs in ‘listening rooms’ where the audience knows the rules, but I know it’s not always like that.

Fans of Sam Lewis will love this. Sam knows how to pick good musicians to work with, but the bottom line is that he can do this all on his own and keep audiences enraptured; here’s the proof.

“Solo” is out now in the UK on Loversity Records and you can catch the Sam Lewis live experience on his current tour of the UK and Europe (details here).