A lot has been made of Sam Outlaw’s stage name. Maybe it’s to do with expectations of the music that would emanate from such a moniker. Outlaw is not an outlaw in the mode of artists usually associated with that term; rather Sam Outlaw plays music that is influenced by traditional country music since the 50s. He takes elements of music he likes and creates something that is very contemporary and totally distinctive. Country music is about the voice and the song. Both are here and both are good. Prior to this collection he has released a debut album Nobody Loves Sam Outlaw and an eponymous five track EP. These recordings show that Outlaw’s voice and sound were established from the start. Country love songs are the overriding theme of his writing and indeed that is the title of a song that features on both albums.
The album was produced by Ry Cooder and his son Joachim something the two rarely do, so they obviously recognised something special in Outlaw’s music. Mentioned should be made of Ry’s refined and relevant guitar playing and Joachim’s steady and effectively paced drumming throughout. Both add much to the overall feel of the album and are alone a lesson in music made with understanding and feeling. The production is clear, warm and balanced giving the songs the right sense of mood appropriate to each. Outlaw also brings in harmony singer Molly Jenson along with steel player Jeremy Long, both long time members of Outlaw’s live and recording band, to give some continuity to his previous recordings - both of which are worth hearing.
Outlaw’s songs are the key to the success of this album from the opening Who Do You Think You Are? to the title song and such highlights as I’m Not Jealous, Love Her For a While and It Might Kill Me all of which have an acute sense of melody and are memorable. Indeed, I have found myself returning to listen to Outlaw’s music more often than I have to other better know names. This album is not exception and is one that rewards listening. Angeleno has a broad base that sees strings, Spanish guitar and mariachi blended in a effective and enlightening way. The atmospheric guitar and banjo on Country Love Song enhance its sense of longing. In fact as I listen, each song is equally pleasing and makes for an album of timeless songs.
As mentioned, it is the classic combination of song and voice that the makes this music work. It is not music that is likely to be embraced by mainstream country radio. It should be noted that Sam Outlaw is not doing anything that has not been done before, but he brings these elements together in a way that is interesting and deserves recognition. Equally this album is part of the resurgence of some real country music in California. If you don’t expect long beards, tattoos and a modicum of bad language, then this Outlaw’s music is something that will hold you captive and it is one of the year’s best releases.