Rae Sam - The Great Escape
Buckle & Boots always throws up someone who has not crossed our path before and one who certainly made an instant impression was Rae Sam. Blessed with an infectious enthusiasm and a beautifully packaged CD, that had been released earlier in the year, the journey time between B&B and our hotel proved the ideal time to get a chance to listen to it properly and it was time well invested.
A quick scan of the sleeve notes shows that Rae had a hand in writing all of the 12 songs and she is obviously surrounded by a team who are able to bring them to fruition as fully rounded songs. It is something of a showcase album, the front half much poppier, occasionally the production is a little too keyboard heavy, while the second half contains some quite diverse material that is far more attention grabbing.
The one constant is Rae's voice, which is strong throughout, regardless of which style the song is in, at times prominently and proudly displaying her Welsh origins.
As the opening track "The Great Escape" begins with its bright pop intro you may think that you know where this album is going, but leave your preconceptions at the door for you don't!! even this title track still has plenty to deliver!!
"Every day just the same colour of grey - no beauty I could see
Then you came, took away, all of my pain, your love set me free"
The transition between monochrome and colour and the sheer happiness and freedom given by the new relationship is summed up by the final line of the chorus "I'm dancing again" or in the line "I can finally shine"
It is undoubtedly slick and soulful, possibly a little too slick in places and then about 2 minutes in it takes a little musical diversion, during which Rae declares
"Nothing's going to hold me back",
All in all a great little introduction to the album although it does not hint at the magic to come.
"Shot Down" has a slightly grungier opening, with Rae repeatedly announcing the title early. It proves to be something of a self motivation song fighting against others doubt, that sees Rae starting the song innocently enough
"Sat there on the bus seat - watching the world pass by" when some sort of discouraging, disparaging incident occurs. From there on in the song is a determined shout to grab every opportunity and a reminder not to give up
"Don't you ever pull that trigger - don't blow your dreams away - don't give up today!" it leads to the desire that things can and will change
"Hope and pray it's time your dreams come alive today"
There is then an ongoing battle between those "words that were sown that could kill your field of dreams" and the eternal optimism and reminder in the chorus which acts as a kick ass reminder!.
The production once again is all out, there's a full on brass section employed to bring this dream to life!
"Keep Running" takes us into modern country territory unfortunately with a robotic synthesised drum that fortunately fades away. it finds Rae in "Bonnie & Clyde" style relationship where the joy of finding "my ticket out of town" is mixed with the upset of finding that he is something of s shyster with a "suitcase of lies". It's a neat little song that is wrapped up nicely as Rae reaches an epiphany with just a piano as she sings
Won't keep on running with you - now I make the rules"
Once again there's a full on production and top marks to the production team for building up a choir from just 3 voices.
things shift up a gear with "Still Breathing" which is a slower paced ballad, about finding out who your real friends are, the ones who are there to help and support when things go wrong.
"This is the moment life hits me hard and unravels I am frozen
Can't stop falling losing the battle
Than I hear your voice tell me that you'll always be there and your never going to leave me
I need you now please hold me"
If we take the words at face value then Rae would have been in a very dark place, the implications of the line
"You're the reason I'm still breathing" are not normally found in your average pop song, and there is real vulnerability in the line "I need you now please hold me" that elevates this to another level
There is a lovely moment, an emergence from the dark where Rae begs forgiveness that is quite touching, the music suitably building and stirring matched by her vocals as she says
"I don't have all the words to say i'm sorry I see the pain I've caused will you forgive me"
Mr Hollywood comes with a more Americana, less poppy production and sounds the better for it as Rae takes aim at a Harvey Weinstein style mogul, whose world has collapsed and has seen him turn from "predator" to "prey". Immediately characterised as someone machiavellian, Rae describes him as someone who has "spun your web" and as one who "sold a million promises" but the song is about the tables turning and there Is a marvellously grand swooping chorus
"I can see it now, your kingdom burning down
Your empire laying on the ground"
Leading to the final pay off.
"Take your final bow - this is how the story ends - Goodbye Mr Hollywood"
The subsequent verses continue to exact revenge painting a despicable individual,
"the taste of sweet innocence paid for your dreams", later calling him "a thief a fraud a fake"
Three and half minutes in and the song seems well rounded and complete yet Rae has more to give
"Once upon a time you had me on a hook - once upon a time I thought I never could
Once upon a time until I understood - you don't own me"
All in all a truly excellent track
"Feel This Good" - is a little synthy in the verses however there is no escaping that the joyful chorus packs a punch -It is a little gimmicky in places borrowing from at least half a dozen songs but it undoubtedly remains a tribute of being able to
"Dance away my troubles - don't try to burst you my bubble". To give it the full title you'd need to insert the brackets (Don't need a drink to ). - To butcher the well known phrase it is something of a thorn between 2 roses.
"Honey" is something altogether different, starting for no explicable reason with the sound of a jukebox, unless maybe as a frame to say this next track is going sound retro. It is slower, with a sixties feel to the vocals which finds Rae slightly dreamy and breathy, lingering over lines like "Your honey on my lips - is too sweet to resist". There is something of a sub Style Council "Long Hot Summer" type of production going on in places but Rae's exquisite vocals are able to make us forget that and instead concentrate on the more impressive sub Bacharach silky string elements in the rest of the song that make this more memorable,
"Coming Home" is slightly odd, a little celtic, certainly like nothing else that precedes or follows it - it gives an inkling off the talent that Rae has in her armoury. Freed from any pop trappings this is punctured by big heavy drums, and strings to make for sure the most curious track on the album, and provides an atmosphere in which Rae seems much more comfortable really able to express the power of her vocal ability.
"Wildly Me " starts off with a return to the pre packaged pop sound that occasionally does this album a disservice yet it is welded to a fantastic chorus, almost gospel in places that just about saves this track, it is easily far better than the rest of the song.
"Someway Somehow" ties together a lot of the themes running through the album, the need escape to a a "new life", to "break free", along with the theme of wanting to succeed
"I'm going to make it somewhere somehow"
Once again there is something of a choir created which gives this song some additional gravitas and an uplifting quality
The "Other Woman" is another of the albums little departures offering up a soulful big ballad, with moody guitar and a glorious hammond organ. Once again freed from the pop trappings Rae is able to show just how much vocal quality she possesses. There's a little twist in the fact that the other woman is indeed Rae herself as she considers a darker side of her character, one trying to tempt someone away from their existing relationship. there is a sort of Jeckyll and Hyde relationship that ends with Rae's better side winning "You can't stay here anymore". Hidden away at the back of the album it is a little gem.
"Same About You "- has a gentle acoustic guitar opening and comes with a truly heartfelt delivery, There are gently placed piano parts. and Rae undoubtedly pours out her heart out on lines like
"Life has a bitter way of mocking my pain
Just when I'm safe it comes around again"
It is undoubtedly her heartbreak song however there is just something a little too Disney or West End musical about it in terms of delivery. If nothing else it once again reinforces just what a bundle of talent Rae Sam is.
Twelve songs in a wide variety of styles, some working better than others but at the centre of it undoubtedly a powerful bright new performer. Rae could probably succeed in which ever direction she chooses to take from here, personally I would think there are any number of people who could do some of the lighter weight numbers on the album but only Rae who could deliver some of the others and it is those I would her focus her talents on going forward.