April 20, 2024

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CD review: Steve Baker – Too Much Is Never Enough – 2024: Video, CD cover

Originally from London, the music of harp player, singer and composer Steve Baker is both accomplished and stylistically varied. He has long enjoyed an international reputation as an innovative pioneer on the diatonic harmonica.

English singer-songwriter-harmonica player and slide guitarist Steve Baker presents an Americana-Roots program. It’s all acoustic guitars, upright bass and occasional drums or percussion, with his melodic harmonica being the star of this show. All the musicians are sympathetic to each other. Steve wrote all but one song.

As a songwriter, he spans a wide stylistic range, stretching from Americana and country to blues, rock and even reggae. Whether snappy funk or dreamy ballads, Baker’s pop sensibility always comes across clearly. His songs have catchy choruses, are deeply personal while avoiding clichés, and somehow also seem very English.

His first two solo releases, Perfect Getaway and The Great Divide, were recorded with an electric band and were correspondingly rock-oriented. For his third solo album, Steve returns to his folk roots. With Too Much Is Never Enough, he presents a collection of mainly acoustic tunes, mostly written during the pandemic.

The new songs were recorded by Uli Kringler in MCE Studio 3 with Jeff Walker (upright bass & vocals) and Robert Carl Blank (guitar & vocals), Heinz Lichius (drums) and Yogi Jockusch (percussion). Uli contributed additional guitar parts and Stefan Stoppok plays waldzither on two tracks, while Steve’s daughter Gina sings harmony on one title.

“Poison Chalice” is relevant in regards of some current political dilemmas. The CD title is a lyric lifted from this song. Mournful and melancholy harmonica and slide guitar set the atmosphere. Here and elsewhere his harmonica playing is melodic and limber, unlike many current players. There are some very interesting beats on the upbeat “Take Me For A Fool”. “Distant Shore” appears to be about the afterlife.

The sound is reduced to essentials, a gripping and rhythmically sophisticated combination of sparse instrumentation and three-part vocal harmonies. Characterised by great dynamics, the sound alternates between airy openness and rich density. Steve employs his instantly recognisable harp style to create elegantly crafted solo passages, but always in the service of the song. This makes for an exciting, powerful and appealing overall sound that perfectly supports his haunting lyricism.

The narrator speaks of an uplifting partner in the love song “Too Broken To Mend”. I find “Fools Paradise” and “Terminal Road” to be a bit pessimistic. That being said, “Terminal Road” stands out for its’ infectiously funky harmonica riffing. “Charles Delondes Ghost” is one song that I am not sure of the subject matter, but it maintains a profound quality. Steve commits a good version of Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine”. The slow and tender “Gina’s Lullaby” is for his daughter Gina who does the harmony vocal near song’s end. It is a lovely sentiment to conclude this moving record.

And that brings us to the lyrics. Baker’s new songs radiate attitude. He makes no bones about his convictions, with a collection of both political and deeply personal songs that unsparingly reflect and comment on our turbulent times. There’s a certain similarity to the work of colleagues such as Billy Bragg. With the exception of Bob Dylan’s “I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine”, all songs are his original compositions. With Too Much Is Never Enough, Steve Baker comes closer to realising his personal musical vision and presents his most uncompromising work to date.

He toured for many years as a duo with singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Jones, who passed away on September 13, 2005. They recorded four albums together for Acoustic Music Records and toured throughout Europe, Australia, Russia and the USA. But his collaboration with the German blues legend Abi Wallenstein is also very successful. He has recorded six albums with him so far and they can still be found on stage with some regularity. He also works with Dave Goodman and the band Bluesculture, in which we also find Abi Wallenstein. Albums are also made under their own name, such as ‘Perfect Getaway’, which was released by Timezone Records in 2018 and the CD ‘The Great Divide’ follows a year later.

Now four years later there is ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’, his third album for Timezone Records. Steve is accompanied on this CD by Jeff Walker on double bass, Robert Carl Blank on guitar, Heinz Lichius on drums and Yogi Jockusch on percussion. Studio boss Uli Kringler of the MCE Studio 3 in Ahrensburg, where the album was recorded between August 2022 and March 2023, plays as a second guitarist on a number of tracks. We also find Stefan Stoppok on two tracks with his waldzither. The waldzither is a plucked instrument from Germany that emerged in Thuringia around 1900. And that instrument fits seamlessly with the folky approach that Steve Baker has chosen for his new album ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’. Steve Baker never indulges in endless soloing, no, his harmonica playing is controlled and subdued. He knows how to perfectly fill the spaces of the acoustically played folk and roots songs with atmospheric harmonica playing. Only on ‘Terminal Road’ does Steve briefly touch on the blues. A beautiful album on which Steve Baker lets us enjoy his folk, roots and country repertoire and varies with acoustic harp playing and occasionally with a rough edge over his Marble amplifier. It remains for me to report that we hear Steve’s daughter Gina singing the second voice in the closing track ‘Gina’s Lullaby’.

This close to acoustic recording is both relaxing and thought provoking. All the instrumentalists are very good, with Steve’s harmonica playing being a revelation. Robert Carl Blank and Uli Kringler provide guitar support throughout. Mr. Baker is now based in Germany and many of the musicians appear to be German. It is encouraging to see music such as this get international recognition. There are subtle elements of the blues incorporated here, but it is largely a singer-songwriter affair. One that is surely worthy of your attention.

The songs on this album reflect our troubled times, I hope people don’t find them too depressing. The current state of the world makes me both very angry and very afraid, and I guess I just needed to vent my frustration. I believe artists have an obligation to call out the dreadful things happening all around us, so I didn’t mince my words. There are a couple of songs where I think I managed this, I’m pleased with the opener Poison Chalice and also with Charles Delondes Ghost, a song about gun control and why the USA is so unwilling to implement it. The ideas and songs for this album came about during the covid pandemic. Due to the enforced idleness, I spent a lot of time playing guitar and writing. To ease the time in lockdown, my wife Nico and daughter Gina joined me in making Youtube videos with our friend and neighbour Jeff Walker on socially distanced upright bass, and Robert Carl Blank came by to record a video for a US harmonica festival with us. After spending the previous 5 years playing loud rock&roll it was a relief to return to my folk roots and play without any amplification again, and I decided to record the new songs in an acoustic line-up. I’m proud of the record and am generally very happy with how it’s turned out. At the moment I’m just enjoying performing this material live. I don’t really have any control over the writing process, but a couple of new songs are in the process of bubbling up from the depths of my mind. I’d like to make a live record next, to document how the songs develop through live performance, but I’m not in any great hurry. Jeff Walker has played bass with me since 2017, when I first put a band together to perform the songs from Perfect Getaway. He’s a great musician and good friend who has been an invaluable support during this whole time. My music couldn’t have developed like it has without him, so there was never any question of getting anyone else. Robert Carl Blank is an accomplished singer/songwriter in his own right and also a great guitarist. Because he’s been part of this project from the beginning, I wanted him to play on the album. Both also perform with me live. I wanted a good studio drummer, and recording engineer Uli Kringler (who also contributed additional guitar parts) recommended Heiz Lichius, who did a fantastic job. Percussionist Yogi Jockusch is an old friend and colleague and plays with me live whenever he’s available, so of course I asked him to add percussion. Stefan Stoppok is a very successful German language singer/songwriter who I’ve known for a while now, and when I told him about the project he kindly offered his services. His waldzither on I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine is beautiful. The closing song Gina’s Lullaby is something I made up to sing her to sleep when she was little, so when I finally decided to record it I asked her to sing harmony with me,- an interview with us said Steve Baker.

We recommend that you definitely own this CD and enjoy it. By the way, you can also buy the CD from our advertising page with the direct purchase link.

01 Poison Chalice
02 Bad Blood
03 I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
04 Charles Delondes Ghost
05 Take Me For A Fool
06 Distant Shore
07 Too Broken To Mend
08 Fools Paradise
09 Terminal Road
10 Gina’s Lullaby

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