Brenda Baker (self-titled)
There are relatively few independent singer-songwriters who make their recording debuts with a CD release, especially one as well-produced (by Rob Bryanton) as this one. Brenda Baker is a songwriter with a sharp ear and the knack for a distinctive phrase. Her love songs are pointed and effective–Damn the Highways, about the strains distance places on relationships, and The Price We Pay, a glimpse of a homosexual friendship, are both particularly moving. Songs like Sex and the Bomb are likely to become staples of alternative radio programming. This artist offers a breath of fresh Prairie air, and is one we will hear much from in the future.
December 4, 1989
Independent CDs are still fairly rare; this first-rate effort by a singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan is a surprise. With strong accompaniment from groups led by Rob Bryanton, Baker has a surprising collection of material. Alternative radio will love Sex And The Bomb; there’s a tragic portrayal of (male) homosexual affection in The Price We Pay; and Said I’d Love To is more of a rocker. Sure, Baker’s material covers a lot of ground, but this is an impressive debut.
*** (of 4)
February 3, 1990
Brenda Baker shouldn’t be overlooked, but it’s quite possible her album is sitting on the bottom of the pile, never to be discovered. Throwing out an incredible piece of work like this with only a business card displaying two addresses, one in Regina, the other in Saskatoon, creates only confusion.* Sure, the magic is in the grooves, but let’s have some background on this captivating talent, whose vocal warmth and matter-of-fact lyrics, all of which she wrote, and who adds to the charm with her acoustic guitar work, only whets the appetite for more. What great stuff, particularly the timely People On Trains and Damn The Highways. Also key are Big Blue Ring and The Price We Pay. Produced by Rob Bryanton, but no studio information. Session musicians are obviously the pick of the crop, particularly keyboardist/producer Bryanton and saxman Mark Armstrong. A&R people should move quickly on this one.
* Idiot (and perfectionist) that I am, I sent the elaborate promo kit under separate cover so it wouldn’t get bent out of shape by the CD case.
Stupid or what???
The Leader-Post, Regina
November 4, 1989
Baker’s debut album shows off her talents
Although frequently dealing with the ins and outs of relations between the sexes, Baker’s sharply observed lyrics go way beyond the standard boy-meets-girl pap, taking a much shrewder and more intelligent perspective.
If there’s a problem with Baker’s lyrics, it’s that they can be too ambitious and wordy; in some cases the sheer number of words strains both the listener’s ears and the song’s melodies.
Such songs as Sex and the Bomb and Madonnas and Mary Magdalenes could leave the listener feeling there’s something important and interesting going on, but not knowing exactly what it is.
But where her lyrical approach works, it works very effectively. On I Watch You, Baker deftly sketches the frustrations of unrequited attraction, creating an astringently charming tune.
Musically, Baker’s album is also a satisfying effort, offering a wide range of material and some effective melodies. The songs are arranged in economical but satisfying ways. The extra instrumentation, especially Mark Armstrong’s striking, melodic sax solos, adds a flash of real musical color and interest.
The one song where it all comes together really effectively is also the most unusual on the album: a sprightly piece of surreal comedy called Man of My Dreams. It’s a spoken narrative set to music by Rob Bryanton– who also plays, keyboards and produced and arranged the album– rather than a conventional song.
It sounds a little like an upbeat Laurie Anderson, except it’s funny and insightful rather than stilted and cerebral. (Maybe you should toss in a little Tracey Ullman or Terry Gilliam to flesh out the picture).
It’s a fascinating, cheeky and macabre little exercise–topped off with a catchy chorus and a hot guitar solo from Jack Semple–that makes for an impressively quirky finish to an impressively original, homegrown debut.