Naming an album after yourself can be a tricky business. If an artist truly wants listeners to associate a collection of music with their name, that music better be distinctive. It better live up to the name. Sam Doores’ self-titled album more than fulfills that promise. Sam Doores deftly pulls together old rock ‘n’ roll, classic New Orleans-style R&B, and strains of folk and country, along with some experimental touches. The result is a subtly enveloping album that pulls a listener further into its noirish mysteries with each listening.
In his introduction to a recent PopMatters interview with Doores, Jedd Beaudoin notes: “Perhaps not since Los Lobos’ Kiko has an artist so effortlessly married avant-garde and everyman sensibilities, arriving at a place where childlike curiosity meets the fruits of patient practice and ambition. Deep knowledge and unbound imagination coexist peacefully, happily, throughout.” Invoking Kiko, which would certainly be on my shortlist of best albums of the last 30 years, when writing about a new album is a daring move, but Beaudoin’s comparison is on the money. Sam Doores might not reach the practically stratospheric heights of Los Lobos’ 1992 masterpiece. Still, any song from Doores’ album would sound wonderful juxtaposed with anything from Kiko, on what would clearly be a killer playlist of cosmic American music.
Doores, who is a member of New Orleans band, the Deslondes – and has also worked with Hurray for the Riff Raff – found himself writing a series of songs that didn’t seem to fit within those band contexts. Over a few years, Doores recorded the songs at producer Anders ‘Ormen’ Christopherson’s WSLS Studios in Berlin, Germany. While the songs generally feel rooted in American rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, Christopherson’s production has hints of the experimentation that artists from David Bowie to U2 have found in Berlin recording settings.
Sam Doores opens with a brief, gentle instrumental, “Tempelhofer Dawn” that establishes a dreamy mood, without getting too specific about subsequent musical direction. The second track, “Let It Roll” is a welcoming ballad, enveloped by a gospel organ. Lyrically, the humanistic song invites us all to show empathy to those who have “Been walking all around / With their heads hanging down”, to “Show them love / Show them laughter / Show us a sign.” Doores closes the song with a sentiment that simultaneously feels timely and timeless: “Cause when we’re really lovin’ / We ain’t afraid of dyin’.”
Unique combinations of instruments set the mood on any given song. For example, Doores and company play percussion, acoustic and 12-string guitars, vibraphone, glockenspiel, organ, bass, auto-harp, and trombone to create the reverie within “Cambodian Rock N’ Roll”. Sometimes, as on “Wish You Well”, Doores adds a woozy horn section – in this case, cornet, tuba, trombone, and tenor sax – to conjure the New Orleans vibe that permeates the entire album. A close reading of the credits will show further evidence of the wide range of instruments Doores uses to create the overall feel of Sam Doores.
While Sam Doores is certainly a moody album, there is also a level of jauntiness that courses throughout the record, particularly on “Had a Dream” and “This Ain’t a Sad Song”. As New Orleans-inspired music goes, Sam Doores isn’t what you’re likely to hear while you’re sucking down frozen hurricanes on the most touristy blocks of Bourbon Street. But hearing Sam Doores emanating from a dusty old jukebox while enjoying a shot or two in a local joint a few blocks away from the French Quarter? Now, that would be perfect.