Sam Billen: Miracles (Northern Records, 2004)
Right up front I have to say that Sam Billen‘s Miracles is an amazing disc. He brings a mixture of Beach Boys; Beatles; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Sufjan Stevens; and Wayne Everett influences to bear on his first solo release. His song writing is simple, subtle, pensive and smart. He blends pop sensibilities and a classic rock feel with a mixture of creative instrumentation. Chris Colbert is once again at the helm and his production on this disc is equally incredible.
“Invisible Game” is a great opener for this album. It is a mid-tempo tune that is simple, but beautiful in its simplicity. Sam plays the organ with simple, understated drums with hints of horns. In the background of the song, Sam adds doo-wop vocals that actually give the sound of the song depth. Another thing about this album is that you are immediately struck by Sam‘s vocal abilities: his range is impressive. Furthermore, Sam brings topics like “love” to the table and makes them interesting. He is never hackneyed in the way he uses possible overused topics in his music. The satirical “Watching for Sirens” is my favorite tune on the disc. It is about the wasting of time and the character in the song seems to be living a dual life: one in church and one at a screwed up home. Sam uses sitar, keys, and acoustic guitar with stripped down drums. This song is very simplistic, as is the whole album, but with subtle layers. He shows his story telling ability to be great and his abilities as a songwriter are brilliant.
“Listen to Me” is a mid-tempo song with banjos, chimes, and child like background vocals. This song hits the listener on a spiritual level, sort of like Sufjan Steven‘s Seven Swans disc. His portrayal of how Christ sees his creation is touching, meaningful, and never trite. “Fell in Love with You” is a slow tempo piano song that is subtle and pensive. There are accents of percussion, but Sam‘s voice really carries this song. I really can’t say enough about Sam‘s vocals on this album. They bring me back to the good ol’days of rock, but Sam also has a definite distinct flavor to his voice as well.
Although all the songs on this disc are certainly wonderful, “I Finally Know” is a highlight for sure. It is a slow to mid-tempo song with keys, assorted drums, strings, and falsetto vocals. The chorus reminds me of late Beatles. His vocal work on this track also reminds me of a mixture of Beach Boys harmonies and John Lennon/Paul McCartney vocals. The song plays out with a mixture of violins, cellos, sax and bass guitar. “Fell in Love with Love” is a reprise of “Fell in Love with You” and it really rounds out the themes from the record. One thing that is fantastic about this album is the cohesiveness of the themes throughout the disc. Sam tells stories about ones desires in this world and their competition with spiritual needs or desires. He is a master at painting the dissonance this can cause in ones life.
This disc has some of the best song writing I have heard in a long time. It is solid all the way through and showcases Sam‘s abilities as a musician and vocalist. Although very early in the year, this could very well be one of the top ten albums of the year.