John T. Baker – Rough Skeleton

John T. Baker would probably be pleased to hear that he does a good Elliot Smith impression — or at least, he sounds like Smith might have sounded had he been born a little closer to the Mississippi. Rough Skeleton has Smith’s fingerprints all over it, up to and including a tribute song, “Waltz for Elliot”. Baker does a decent imitation of the tortured artist’s trembling voice, but fails to replicate Smith’s razor-sharp songwriting.

Rough Skeleton‘s source material isn’t limited to the Elliott Smith canon. “Myrtle Lee” sounds like a slower Stone Roses number, and Baker dutifully does his best to sing like Ian Brown. “Pay” is backed by a solid wall of harmonies and a meandering guitar line, an apparent nod to Smith’s Beatles influence. “September” and “Silence” borrow a page from Sam Beam, subdued acoustic guitar and underproduced vocals skillfully emulating what The Creek Drank the Cradle did best. Baker’s own personality makes a rare showing near the end of “Silence”, when a subdued drumbeat and echoing slide guitar break the sleepy mold.

Apart from the issue of who Baker sounds like, his spacy approach doesn’t always work; the interminable “Reflections from a Cell”, with its reverse-gated guitar solos and canned synth atmospherics, goes nowhere — very slowly.

Rough Skeleton establishes a pleasantly somber, hazy mood, but Baker doesn’t make much of an impression. He’s more likely to make you dig out other people’s albums than he is to enthrall you with his own material.

Previously published on Splendid

10/6/2005

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