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Music Review: Sam Llanas – 4 A.M.

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Sam Llanas’ major claim to fame has been as a founding and long term member of the BoDeans. However, if this album is any indication he may soon have a new claim to fame as a solo artist.

Listening to 4 A.M. was like a breath of fresh air. While I have listened to and am somewhat familiar with his work with the BoDeans during the course of the last three decades, it does not come close to the quality of his new solo release. This album is now an entry onto my list of best albums of the year.

Llanas (pronounced Yanas) has released a laid back album, which makes it very different from his 1998 solo effort, A Good Day To Die, which was a eulogy of sorts to his brother, recorded under the group name Absinthe. The intense nature of that release has been left behind and a mostly acoustic album has taken its place.

He wrote 10 of the 11 songs and surrounded himself with a number of complimentary musicians. In addition to his vocals and guitar playing; other musicians include percussionist Ryan Schiedermayer, guitarist and harmonica player Terry Vittone, bassist Matt Turner, accordion player Bukka Allen, plus a string section led by producer Gary Tanin.

Llanas has one of the unique voices in rock music. It can be a love or hate affair with his vocal sound but I find it fits his compositions well as it presents the emotion and stories he has created.

His new album was a long time in the making. He began work on the music about four years ago when the BoDeans were enjoying some down time. Its origins began with his doodling in the studio with guitarist Vittone. As more songs were developed, the possibility of releasing an album was born. Ironically the album will be released October 25, about three months after the BoDeans 10th studio release.

The album takes its title from the fact that it was primarily recorded in the early morning hours, and the music seems to fit that time period. The opening track, “Oh, Celia,” introduces the uninitiated to his vocal style on one of the more beautiful songs of the year. Minimal accompaniment by his acoustic guitar and some plaintive accordion work by Allen provide the perfect backing.

Some of the better tracks are “Shyne” with its well-crafted instrumental sound and tempo, the self-confessional title track that adds a subtle electric guitar and accordion sound to his acoustic playing, and the closing tune, “The Way Home,” which is American roots music at its best. Sometimes musicianship is in the notes not played and the artists involved manage not to intrude on Llanas’ style and concepts. Thus the sound remains sparse, which enhances the listening experience. The only cover song was Cindy Lauper’s “All Through The Night,” which fit the theme of the album well.

Sam Llanas has released a keeper of an album. He has managed to create a musical and lyrical masterpiece. Hopefully it will achieve some mainstream acceptance and there will be more solo albums coming in the future.

 

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