February 01, 2020
(Cooking Vinyl)Lee pursues his twin passions on this fine third album, produced by Bernard Butler, with a star turn by Elizabeth Fraser
Sam Lee: Old Wow review – a dazzling fusion of nature and song
Ever since childhood singalongs around the fires of Forest School Camps, folksong and mother nature have been indivisible passions for Sam Lee. The singer’s third album, the first with Suede’s Bernard Butler producing, fuses the two obsessions in dazzling fashion. Once again the songs are all traditional, while Lee has skilfully intercut some and “rewilded” them with the odd flourish – the “Old Wow” of the title is his name for an awestruck sense of nature.
The album frequently sounds far from traditional, however. Lee’s rich baritone voice carries the imprint of folk past – no one does “unaccompanied” better – but he can also slide into 1950s crooner (he has been known to sport a tux). Butler knows when to leave well alone, but adds jazzy shadings for The Garden of England and Sweet Sixteen, a touch of rock muscle for Lay This Body Down, and swelling strings for Soul Cake. There’s also a spine-tingling duet with the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser on Wild Mountain Thyme. It’s a daring piece of chamber folk whose human dramas – abandonment, loss, love – come suffused with the natural world. Green Grow the Rushes, O will never sound the same again.
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