Album | Sam Lee – The Old Wow

Sam Lee is a man who needs no introduction to anyone reading these pages. This is his fourth solo record and deserves as much recognition as his Mercury Award debut effort, Ground of its Own. This song hunter extraordinaire has assembled 10 songs that take you on an emotional 48 minutes, with every song full of humanity and spirit, produced by Bernard Butler and the first Lee record to feature the electric guitar.

“The ceremony begins…” sings Lee to minimal backing to open the album with ‘The Garden of England (Seeds of Love)’. The piano and drums build slowly by each verse, before being joined by Robert Kirby-esque strings. The song also features the soft drone of a Shutri box, an instrument popular with Indian musicians.

On ‘The Moon Shines Bright’, Lee is joined by Elizabeth Fraser. One of the most melancholic songs of the collection. “A life of a man comes with little plan”, it’s a song filled that marches on to its conclusion. Later on the album, Lee gives his version of ‘Spencer the Rover’, the song made famous by both John Martyn and The Copper Family. Lee’s is the equal to either of those, and reminds me of the reworkings recorded a few years ago by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer.

‘Turtle Dove’ is the greatest achievement here, though my opinion of that has altered with each listen so far. Another track with scant instrumentation to begin with before building to a compulsive crescendo, just Lee’s voice to the fore. A storyteller extraordinaire, there isn’t a weak track amongst the ten presented here and Butler’s producing has certainly given Lee the space to show off his considerable strengths.

The Old Wow is a fragile and breathtaking in equal measure, perfect for winter evenings. It’s too early in the year to talk about the best albums of 2020, but we’re going to be in for a pretty special year if this isn’t in the conversation come that time.