Classic ’70s country meets Appalachian-based folk meets modern indie folk in Sam Filiatreau’s self-titled debut. Modern indie folk like that made by the Athens, Ohio-based CAAMP, for instance, which is no coincidence, because two members of that trio form Sam’s backing band, and they recorded and produced the music on this album.
Filiatreau is based in Louisville, Kentucky. He quit school at 16 to play music and hang around at folk festivals absorbing “sad mountain music,” and perfecting his own craft. A while back Taylor Meier and Matt Vinson of CAAMP heard him at a house concert and immediately decided they wanted to record him. So the trio holed up in a cabin near Athens, where they recorded this debut in three days of sessions. Meier played drums and Vinson, bass in addition to their producing and recording work, and Filiatreau’s partner Maggie Halfman came by on the third day to drop in some harmony vocals. The album is the first released on Meier and Vinson’s new label.
The result is a charming album of personal songs with universal appeal. It’s the right length for an old vinyl record, eight songs ranging from less than two to a little more than four minutes each. And they have that kind of warm feel to them you get on a classic LP, too. The production is simple and uncluttered, some acoustic guitars, bass and drums, some electric guitar accents here and there. Well, on my early favorite “Hold Me,” there’s a little more than that from electric guitar. It’s a chugging rockabilly type song with what sounds like resonator guitars in the main body and a hard rocking, dissonant guitar solo on the outro.
The set starts with the short sharp shuffle “Hold The Door,” another rockabilly tune with impassioned vocals and mean picking, a verse and a chorus and out. Sam goes full country, pedal steel and all, on “Wrecking Ball,” which seems to be a love song from a guy who won’t take no for an answer.
“El Camino” has a “Knoxville Girl” vibe to it, what with Sam singing in his deepest voice, some sturdy acoustic fingerpicking, Halfman’s subtle backing vocals, and just an overall air of darkness. “Silver Highway” is closer to Topanga Canyon than Appalachia – this one would be right at home as a Poco b-side, perhaps. And it’s back to Greenwich Village in the early ’60s for the closer, the jaunty acoustic folk “Fine By Me,” with its references to “marijuana cigarettes” and Esso stations that give way to domestic concerns about how quickly the kids grow up.
Filiatreau comes off as totally unassuming, but he definitely delivers the goods. I like that in a singer.
(Gjenny Lou Records, 2021)