Samuel Claiborne’s Debut a Mixture of Blues, Indie and Politics [Review]

Samuel Claiborne

Samuel Claiborne has been writing and playing music in New York City and the Hudson Valley almost all his life. After being published several times, working in bands and making other musical collaborations, Claiborne decided to release his first solo album earlier this year. Love, Lust and Genocide sets his award-winning poetry and prose to music, incorporating blues, indie rock and Claiborne’s political passion.

Samuel Claiborne’s prowess with the written word is apparent upon visiting his website and there is a definite emphasis on lyrics and the import of their meaning in all the songs on Love, Lust and Genocide. Both Claiborne’s poetry and prose have been published, most notably in The New York Times. He translates his plain-speaking yet powerful writing style to the album in many of the tracks. He has also collaborated with a number of bands and other artists in New York and surrounding areas, and has been mostly associated with the “no wave” movement in the city. After over 30 years of writing and working in music, Claiborne has finally decided to release this first attempt at a solo album, and the results are mixed.

Samuel ClaiborneSamuel Claiborne claims his musical style to be part indie and part blues, naming Leonard Cohen and Nirvana as major influences. On Love, Lust and Genocide, it is clear that those influences are present, but marrying the two styles does not always work. The album opens with its first single, Say Goodbye to America, and this track is a stark example of Claiborne not quite having the formula down. The track has a 90s indie feel to it, akin to Marcy Playground. There are elements of blues from some of his old “no wave” buddies as well, so he is telling the truth about influences but the styles seem bumpy and awkward in post.

The lyrics to Say Goodbye to America tell the tale of the “Occupy” movement of 2011 and show Claiborne’s excellent storytelling abilities. From the perspective of both lyrics and beat, the track has the makings of a protest song. The music is where the song falls flat. The rhythm guitar, while plunking along with the beat, sounds quite amateurish and it is unclear whether this is due to the mastering of the track or the writing. The vocals, meanwhile, leave much to be desired. They are off-key and even off-rhythm at times. Claiborne’s lyrics still manage to shine through, however, as do “no wave” guitar great Thomas Doncker’s lead.

Say Goodbye to America sets a confusing tone for the rest of Claiborne’s solo debut. On one hand he has powerful lyrics and some of the music is inspired and has a wonderful base tone of mid-90s alt rock and on the other is Claiborne’s not-so-charming off-key vocal timbre, overly simple guitar and amateur mastering. On the second track, Hungering for Strange, things improve as Claiborne’s voice is in a much lower register a’la Tom Waits which suits him much better. The blues elements flow better with the indie base. The track is still a bit slow, but overall it is probably the best song on the album. Lion and the Lamb contains an odd violin feature but beyond that is a perfectly acceptable track.

The middle of the album sees more of Claiborne’s attempt to channel Tom Waits with Succulence(Blasphemy). The vocals are mostly spoken word and the music is esoteric, trippy and most of all well-produced. Another highlight to be sure, Succulence(Blasphemy) shows some real potential in Claiborne if he continues with this style on future endeavors.

Samuel Claiborne has been a staple in the Hudson Valley’s “no wave” music scene for many years and he is an accomplished poet and essayist. He has certainly taken a chance with his first solo album, and though there is genuine passion in the first single, Say Goodbye to America may scare off potential fans. The rest of Love, Lust and Genocide is rough around the edges but there are a number of good tracks if a listener is willing to do some digging. The potential, musical chops and writing talent is definitely there, but if Samuel Claiborne really wants his solo work to take hold beyond the Hudson Valley, some fine tuning is definitely in order.

Review by Layla Klamt

Sources: – Samuel Claiborne “Say Goodbye to America” – Samuel Claiborne “Love, Lust and Genocide”(private link) – Bio – Samuel Claiborne “Succulence(Blasphemy)

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