Michigan veterinarian Andy Baker’s fourth album arrived this summer, and got lost in the shuffle for a bit. But as good things tend to do, it surfaced at just the right time.
I’m not saying I’ve been struggling with depression—that is too strong of a word for what I’ve been experiencing. I have been feeling alternately down and anxious though these last four months, self-doubt creeping into every crack of insecurity it located. COVID-19 certainly plays a part, largely related to the concerns I felt the area governments were ignoring as we head back to school, and the responsibilities that come with implementing the protocols designed by far-off bureaucrats: I full well know who will be blamed if and when things go bad. No concerts or festivals also contribute, forced isolation wearing at the veneer of positivity most have attempted to display. Therefore, I’ve been experiencing mental challenges, still listening to a lot of music but not finding the will or ability to write about that music.
North Country Sky pulled me out of this funk, just a little. So have other events and happenings. Music is the great healer.
I don’t know much about Andy Baker, nothing outside what I’ve read in his bio and heard in his songs. He has been a Kerrville New Folk Finalist a couple times—with songs featured here—and a Falcon Ridge Emerging Songwriter Finalist as well. He has toured a bit, mostly close to home, and demonstrates that he has the ability to pull a song from the ether, building human connection through rhythm and rhyme.
“Sixteen,” a tribute to his teenaged sister who died of a brain tumor, and “Tsunami,” about grief and loss of life, are compelling songs of personal anguish made universal through artistic flair. Lyric choices that’ll bring a tear—“I’m just a kid with a birthday dream, trying to make it to sixteen,” for one, “I did not tell you I loved you, I did not kiss your lips goodbye; I thought you would be home for dinner, you weren’t supposed to leave this life,” for another, abound. “Second Wind” accepts the inevitable—“Half my beard has turned to grey, half my years have flown away; but I don’t look back on where I’ve been, I’m chasing down my second wind.” These perspectives provide North Country Sky with a formidable spine supporting an artistic vision.
Baker plays a variety of instruments, acoustic guitar, octave mandolin, keyboards, and Dobro. His gentle voice conveys the significance of his songs, the anguish of “Tsunami,” the free-spirited naïveté of “Next Right Thing,” the hope of “I Know” and “Skywriter,” and the country-angst of “Fall to Pieces.” Not everything is heavy, thankfully. “Crossroads” plays with words and melody, creating rhythms all its own, a playful hit single in a different universe. Gordon Lightfoot influences perhaps peek into “Running After You,” and “Fixer Upper Blues” isn’t terribly deep, but is sure to appeal.
The guitar playing is impressive, whether by Baker or Will Walker, with Drew Howard contributing some pedal steel. Jeff Moehle’s drumming choices add significantly to the album.
Evidence that this recording has no filler is that Baker has chosen to conclude the album with two of his finest songs and performances, “Love & Gravity” and “North Country Sky.” Strong to the finish, these songs serve as a capstone to an incredibly rich collection of songs, performed compellingly by a group of musicians and singers united in effort.
North Country Sky is an impressive album from a singer-songwriter whose name I am going to be looking for in the future. Really good stuff, highly recommended.