Reviewed by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Sam Bambery: Songs About Sailors

Reviewed by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Sam Bambery: Songs About Sailors

Ōtautahi songwriter Sam Bambery has just released his debut album, rather illusively titled ‘Songs About Sailors’. 

Hints of country take the sound of this album to a ranch in the middle of nowhere, but the folk/pop structure and live sound of the recording bring it back to a busy bar in a close-knit town, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows the words to the songs.

Bambery’s thoughtful vocals glide down eardrums like Alice slowly spinning down the rabbit hole. His acoustic guitar tone is bright, clean, and natural-sounding and mixes seamlessly into a full band sound.

Waiting is a charmer of an opening track. It gets straight into it with a quick intro, then dips in and out of acoustic sections that have you wanting more. The harmonies follow a melody that could grace a Beatles’ track and beg to be sung along to. Towards the end of the song, they turn to a more open sound, the track building to a drawn-out outro that eventually finishes with just Bambery intoning ‘ahhh’ and ‘mmmm’ alongside his acoustic guitar.

Almost from the first chord, Crying brings Marlon Williams to mind, then later another fellow Christchurch artist Delaney Davidson, locating Bambery in that kind of exalted company. Marlin’s Dreaming guitarist De Stevens, who produced, engineered, mixed and mastered the album shows a very deft touch in each role. There’s plenty of variety and Bambery can clearly play a mean rock/country/folk guitar, but his voice remains the hero throughout. Any other emphasis is on space and instrumental constraint. 

The Other reveals his vocals made hair-raisingly plaintive, crying out to be heard. This track has a similar energy to Work Song by Hozier, and feels like it is in some way reaching out to tell more than the surface story.

The album’s title track is number seven of nine. Songs About Sailors starts with a lulling side-to-side feel created by a simple drum beat and electric guitar soaked in reverb, and unhurried storytelling vocals. It feels like Bambery went on a long sailing holiday with John Mayer and this song is the product of that adventure. Closing track Corduroy Queen is even more simple and folky, an acoustic strum dressed up with nothing more than his vocals and some finger-picked guitar. 

Given this is a debut album, Sam Bambery’s sound is well established and mature, his songs naturally covering deep emotional themes of heartbreak and hope. The musical direction feels clear and that there has been a lot of thought put into each song is clear across the album as a whole.