Extreme shyness isn’t very helpful when hoping to become a pop star and dance semi-naked on national television. However, as Bailey Allen Baker finds out on “Grab A Bucket,” it can prove a blessing for a songwriter trying to figure out what people are actually saying when they avoid saying anything.
Unlike the majority of modern musical performers, subtlety is the name of the game for Baker. Song lyrics read like scribbled diary entries, and the music is often a gentle whisper giving them a voice.
Album opener and main single, “Daniel Plainview,” drops the listeners straight into the mind that Baker is forced to live with every day. Just like the main character of a cinematic masterpiece, “There Will Be Blood,” Baker is obsessed with becoming a God in control of his domain. Musically, the jingle-jangle guitars and dramatic vocals bring to mind 80s singles by The Smiths or R.E.M.
“Scribbled Holograms” gives an even greater snapshot into the inner workings of Baker. The gentle folk-rock instrumentation provides the perfect backdrop for the singer’s dramatic baritone vocals. The result ends up sounding like a 50s-influenced ballad about endless suffering.
Like all ambitious songwriters, there’s part of Baker that hopes listeners will use the crumb trails of this 11-song set to fully figure him out. “All the Things We’ll Never Be” focuses on bittersweet nostalgia. “Great American Dream” is a country ballad about shattered illusions. And on “ignoredrum” the songwriter tries to fight against the urge to demand more out of life and risk coming out empty-handed.
“Patron Saint Surprise” brings a bit of dynamism to the album by way of a children’s jingle groove accompanying the singer’s deep vocals and gallows humor, while The Stench (of Youth) easily wins the prize for Baker’s best-titled song.
The final stretch of the album helps to truly showcase what the singer-songwriter was after all along. He might be whistling on “Different Kind of Blue,” but as he confesses, it helps to maintain: “the bleak fascination with the self-flagellation.”
“Zut Alors!” features an almost Beatlesque guitar arpeggio, but Baker is a poet first and a melody-merchant. If this is music about matters of the heart, then all of the hearts involved must be either blue or shattered. “Kill your good time, girl, and let the daylight in,” sings Baker.
“Out Since the Recession” is the closest Baker gets to a protest song, but what really ends up damaged and hurt is the songwriter’s fragile soul. The song leads toward one of the finest hooks featured on the entire album.
For most people burdened with this kind of gloom, getting out of bed might present a challenge. Baker brings good-natured humor to the tragedy and reels it all in with “Sarasota Songbird,” a recording featuring hiss imported from the 30s and anguish that wouldn’t have been out of place back then either.
“Grab A Bucket” could’ve easily been a book of poems had Bailey Allen Baker not possessed an ear for old-time melodies, a strong baritone, and a good deal of humor. With these attributes tilting fortune his way, the album is a convincing story of an artist facing the Winter cold while wearing a Summer t-shirt and jotting down his experience in a notebook.
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