13 May 2021

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Bartells - EP Review: Let's Go

08 Oct 2020 // A review by Mike Alexander

Sam Bartells has a way with words. In an interview with Darryl Baser from Muzic.net.nz in 2018, he was asked what advice he would give to an aspiring musician. His response – "Believe in yourself as everyone single person has something unique about themselves to offer" – struck me as one of those pearls of wisdom that seems so obvious, but so neglected in a social media-crazed world where we are encouraged to be followers and often base our sense of self on how many likes our posts generate.

Since that interview, Bartells has stumbled along the 'rocky road', intermittently showing glimpses of a gifted songwriter with the kind of renegade and free-wheeling spirit that reminds you New Zealand has its own rich and often under-acknowledged country heritage.

The journey has taken him to Nashville, where his talent has been nurtured and developed by multiple Grammy Award-winning producer, Daniel Robert Ford, aka Dr Ford.

The alchemy was transparent on, Blessed And Broken, the first of two singles that preceded the release of the five track EP Let’s Go.

Few artists reveal themselves raw to the core but with this song Bartells exorcised the demons of addiction with humility and heart-breaking honesty. The turning point in this powerful narrative was the image of a future when his daughter might walk up the aisle without him. Bartells captures the kind of bleak desperation that addicts or co-dependents of any kind face when they recognise their lives have hit rock bottom and there is nowhere to turn and seemingly no one to turn to except for a higher power. That moment of surrender and the blossoming sense of renewal is poignantly captured as the slow-burning song moves from hauntingly bleak to openly joyous; the vocals from fragile and tender to strong and purposeful.

Similarly, the second single, Sign, revitalises the spirit after referencing the shadows of the past. When I first heard it, I thought I was listening to Dave Dobbyn. You could actually imagine him covering it. It has that quality-crafted structure his songs always exhibit. It bends and sways, touchingly delicate and yet solid enough to carry the weight of its subject matter.

The good doctor’s hand is evident throughout Let’s Go, with subtle touches in the arrangements, particularly on the southern-fried picking and fiddling on Alone No More, while Bartells' love affair with the acoustic guitar shines on the beautifully rendered, sweeping ballad the Morning Light.

It’s the perfect sign-off for Let’s Go – a final burning of the bridges on a difficult past and a forging commitment to a brighter future.

Rating: ( 5 / 5 )


Let's Go
Year: 2020
Type: Album

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