Sam Coe - Comeback Queen
When Sam Coe announced her intention of releasing a solo album, it seemed something of an odd announcement. With her band The Long Shadows they had many times stretched their musical boundaries across various areas of the Americana genre - their "Full Moon" album being a testament to that - so how different would a Sam Coe solo record be? Well as "Comeback Queen" will prove there is a completely different side to Sam, one that does need to come to fruition outside of the confines of her existing band.
The opening song is the five minute title track "Comeback Queen" and immediately you can tell this is a different project entirely, the opening minute is almost entirely instrumental with 2 deliciously rich keyboard sounds, punctuated only, some percussion and a repeated guitar riff - eventually Sam's introduces herself "I'm a whisper a shadow of a girl" in a somewhat breathy vocal. She then lays out herself in some somewhat cryptic words "I'm a writer who cannot find the words", "I'm addicted to bad men who wave goodbye" and "I'm equal parts the good, and the bad and the inbetween",
Musically it is thuddingly heavy, at times slightly distorted but always absorbing. The third verse takes part with Sam's vocal way up in the mix over a church organ before returning to the glorious chorus - as an opening statement it is quite simply awesome!!
The second track could not be more different in style, opening with a fast played acoustic guitar over which Sam lays down some speedy vocals in her own inimitable style. Just as you think you've got any sort of handle on this, it switches tempo and style completely and turns to be more of a band number. It is like 2 completely different songs welded together to make something else entirely. To then completely throw the listener the sound drops to just a piano and Sam before a Beatlesque string section come in. It is completely mad, there is so much packed into this 4 minute song you could probably write a thesis on it!!
"In The Moments" is another a near 6 minute epic, starting with just a piano, before Sam comes in with a quite delicate, beautifully controlled vocal along with some accompanying strings. The song then builds and swirls - its like Sam Coe meets the Royal Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall, this song is set out on a huge scale.
The journey from beauty to brutal is quite short as the next track "Concrete" opens with some pounding keyboard notes before Sam appears on this almost forties sounding blues. If the previous track was the Albert Hall, this is New Orleans bar, with some guitar distorted by echo and some inventive ominous drumming. Fitting in with the theme of the "Comeback Queen" this is a song about survival, whether from heatbreak, or maybe even poverty or addication, "You've seen me at my worst, push me in the dirt" the character will always return - "I'm better when I need to survive - You can cover me in cold concrete but i'm always going to come back alive". The image of being buried in cold concrete seemingly something inescapable only giving more testimony to the inner strength required to come back fighting.
Sonically there is no saying where each track will take you - "Bonfire" starts with that rich church organ again, and Sam delivering a soulful Sixties like vocal, a kind of Sam does Dusty!. It is simply magnificent stuff with Sam's singing reaching untold heights she probably would never have imagined on starting this record. Lyrically it is choc full of references to things fire related "old flames and embers, ashes and smoke" with old flames open to having two different meanings.
The first introduction we had to the album was the opening single "Hard Time", the dark brooding sounding Americana tune now seems to be the perfect entry point the project. To have opened with some of the other tracks might have scared people away but this almost tribal song is an intriguing beckoning finger to come and listen to more. It still stands as a proud and defiant declaration of love as Sam soars and sings "I don't want no other".
The next tune "The Truth" sees a return to the church vibe in a tale of dangerous liaisons, "In a room of a thousand I'd only see you" with the follow up somewhat open to interpretation "i'll be your other as long as you need - until time or the truth sets us free" . The music also has something of a threatening stormy air about it
This is an album that never sits still, continually driving forward searching out new areas, "Cruel", is something different from what has preceded it, in some ways perhaps the most conventional sounding song in terms of structure, it blends deep southern soul, and electric guitars with an almost pop chorus - the subject though on becoming more self obsessed, with Sam outlining "I'm going to be cruel from now on"... "looking out for no-one else but me".
"Safe and Sound" sees choices to be made, to leap into the unknown or to stay safe by not risking anything "without any answers".
Just a piano for backing for most of the song apart from the appearance of some strings. The situation is laid out from the very start with 2 people seemingly talking about the weather but sending out different signals entirely "I'm a dreamer, you're a doer" there's a choice to be made. The song hints at the safe option "Foolish heart I didn't take the chances or cross the finish line", "safe and sound without any bruises".
Immediately "Burnt Out" opens with an unsettling sound effect as the organ sound echoes and throbs. Lyrically we are in quite a dark place, "the wrong side of goodbye" where "none of these friends know what to say, none of these pills will push it away", summed up with "you got everything you needed I got worse than nothing at all". It's a return to the soulful sound that has permeated through the album in places and is home to some brutally honest song writing "This is a love song for someone that don't love me". In an album of quite perfectly captured vocals, this is probably the best as it captures the pain of the song on every line and that organ sound is so bitter sweet.
After an album that travels into so many different directions, it ends on quite a restrained number with "Merry Go Round" which in comparison seems almost like a demo, it is just an acoustic guitar and Sam singing, there's even a little celebratory "done" outburst from Sam at the end. Is it possible that the band versions of this number never quite captured the charm of this initial take or was it always to be like this?
With "Comeback Queen", Sam Coe has managed to have a vision of a project on a grand scale and has been superbly assisted in being able to bring it to fruition. It is almost certainly like nothing else you will hear this year, a cornucopia of different sounds matched with some excellent song writing.