“A Desperate Man Is Hard To Find” (by Holly Morse-Ellington): Red Sammy channels bad seeds and misdeeds, music legends, and the ghost of Flannery O’Connor.
Imagine if Steve Earle were to hit the road from Tennessee and the ghost of Lou Reed were to drive down from New York—and the two cross paths in Baltimore—then Red Sammy’s haunting alt-Americana album Creeps and Cheaters has arrived. Also haunting this album is Lynyrd Skynyrd. And Flannery O’Connor.
The band, which takes its name from the seemingly unsophisticated soothsayer Red Sammy Butts in O’Connor’s, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” was formed by singer-songwriter Adam Trice in 2007. Influenced by O’Connor’s Southern gothic themes, Trice’s songs tell stories about the everyday damaged and damned among us. His guttural voice mines for diamonds in the mud his characters wade in, delivering lyrics with equal resolve and acceptance to uncovering nothing more shimmering than the jagged-rock truth. Trice doesn’t knuckle under the Big Top tent of bloated tales of honkytonks and whiskey-drowned sorrow in Creeps and Cheaters. Instead, he’s written from the front porch with a bird dog’s sense of human nature. And though down and out, they are not desperate.
In “Dirty Water” Trice drives the repetition of “I lick the water, heal my wounds…I’m the dog that roams the streets…With dirty water dripping, with dirty water dripping down” to a growl through the bluesy torment of Bruce Elliott’s electric guitar progressions. In the somber ballad “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real,” Elliott’s aching guitar riffs echo the mood expressed in the lyrics, “On the cold concrete, there go your teeth, and time is falling down, the hospital sheets, the shadows fall where they will, your faith in pretty pills, like anything you want, sometimes you forget what’s real.”
Like any storyteller worth his salt, Trice keeps his sense of humor. Songwriters risk putting the corny in candy corn with tongue-in-cheek songs. However, with John Decker on resonator, “Hangin’ With Uncle Elvis On Christmas” affirms that The King is not dead. Trice’s lyric, “Everything you own packed in your car trunk” harkens to the adage, “You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going.” Like family, music and song writing has a lineage. In her essay, “The Fiction Writer & His Country,” Flannery O’Connor said, “At least, of late, Southern writers have had the opportunity of pointing out that none of us invented Elvis Presley and that that youth is himself probably less an occasion for concern than his popularity, which is not restricted to the Southern part of the country.” While Creeps and Cheaters delves into the American songbook of Southern rock and New York grit, it emerges with a unique voice that has no fences. That’s simply stamped, Red Sammy. Rounding out this ensemble is Greg Humphreys on bass and Ryan Bowen and Eric Evitts on drums.
Creeps and Cheaters ignites the smoldering embers of Red Sammy’s previous album, These Poems with Kerosene. Red Sammy has dug down into the belly of the fire pit. The result is a nuanced album layered with silty vocals and fatback guitar licks.
Review (“Sometimes You Forget What’s Real” Single Release) “I’m all about alt-country, which is a deceptively hard genre to get right. You can’t lean too country, or too indie, or too singer/songwriter. Red Sammy walks the line between all of these with a tune that’s equal parts Tom Waits, Counting Crows, and Jayhawks.
Adam Trice’s rough vocals aren’t the only place that Waits comparisons fit: “Sometimes You Forget What’s Real” is a long, walking-speed tune that relies heavily on a world-weary mood to compel listeners’ ears. There’s a genial, earnest feel to the guitar that calls up August and Everything After-era Counting Crows, while the weeping electric guitar gives the tune a big ‘ol “alt-country” stamp not too far from the Jayhawks’ work. Extra bonus: Mountain Goats-quality yawps at the end of the vocals’ contributions. The whole tune comes together so beautifully that it’s hard to believe that it’s over 6 minutes long. If you’re into old-school, loose folk/country jams or any of the previous acts, this tune will perk your ears up.” (Independent Clauses, Summer 2015)
Reviews (These Poems With Kerosene) “I was somewhat taken by surprise by this album. Entirely my fault for not doing a little research before slapping the CD into the player and pressing the triangle. Happily listening away to the twangy guitar and raspy, Tom Waits-ian vocals then suddenly – poetry. Now this could be pretentious and irritating but it somehow just about works. Eight musical tracks and four readings by poet and University of Baltimore professor Steve Matanle plus one musically backed reading. Red Sammy, led by Adam Trice, are no strangers to verse – they produced one book of poetry with accompanying soundtrack called “In Places with Bad Lighting” in 2010. As a band, they appear in various guises – Trice going solo, duo and with a full piece. The membership seems fluid and for this, their third release, there are four members. On listening, there’s an atmosphere of cheap liquor and drunken women. Hard times, disappointment and lost love. Trice growls and grates his way through the songs, backed by twangy, acoustic rock rhythms and resonator guitar, interspersed by the spoken word of Matanle. At first it’s difficult to marry the two forms but on repeated listening, it grows on you. You have to imagine you are in some smoky, underground club. The lights are dim and the bentwood chairs sigh under your weight. The band plays then the poet stands and recites, then the music resumes. It’s a bit of a “happening”. Of the musical numbers, “Brokenlight” is a stand out track – haunting and catchy and foot tappingly pleasing. “Shark Bait” and “Monstertruck” also. Even the poetry reading has an almost soporific, soothing effect. If you like your singing gritty, your tunes roughly hewn from country blues and your poetry sharp and to the point, this is just waiting for you.” (Americana UK, 2013)
“I love reading and writing poetry. (I am likely one of the few people in the world who was so moved as to do a happy dance when Natasha Trethewey was named United States Poet Laureate.) So I was thrilled to hear that folk/country outfit Red Sammy had teamed up with poet Steve Matanle for these poems with kerosene. The gritty, gravelly-voiced country fits perfectly with Matanle’s detailed scenes, making for a fascinating album. The two only team up for “Nightriff,” instead preferring to trade spread the four spoken-word tracks among the eight songs. This creates an intriguing flow for the album, making both the songs and the poems memorable.The tunes are low-slung, largely eschewing treble, cymbals, and screaming guitar solos. This melodic breathing room allows for more nuance in the tunes, giving “Rank & File” a solemn beauty. ”Monstertruck” throws in an acoustic slide-guitar solo from the low end of the frets, something I love to hear in this pop-friendly era. The low-end riffing continues on the collaborative track “Nightriff,” foregrounding Matanle’s dry but still evocative voice over the guitar. The descriptive, abstract poem itself is eclipsed in quality by the much more concrete “Hobbies of the Damned,” “Man with a Suitcase,” and “Bar,” all of which tether their small revelations to finely explained events. Matanle gets a lot done in a few words, as none of his spoken word pieces go over 1:30; this is the perfect length to serve as powerful interludes between the longer Red Sammy songs (roughly 4 minutes each). these poems with kerosene isn’t near as volatile as its title would suggest: it’s more of a slow-burner, working its way into your consciousness bit by bit. Both Steve Matanle and Red Sammy have contributed pieces that give you space to think: they don’t hit you over the head anything. That’s a welcome blessing. kerosene is a must-hear for alt-country fans,” (Independent Clauses, 2013)
“Woodbourne” and “Brokenlight,” for instance, are revelations. Gone is the embarrassingly cheap nature of “Cactus Flower,” and in is a sense of maturity that is both palpable and confident. Both tracks display the value in slowing things down, and in what might prove to be the most revealing element of the album, the move serves Red Sammy well. Trice’s growl is managed and emotional as he sings, “I go and try to be young again” during the former, and rather than feeling hollow, the lyric bleeds through the speakers in a strikingly honest light. Meanwhile, “Brokenlight” takes a tiny acoustic guitar rhythm and turns it into a slow dance that only accentuates as the resonator is placed perfectly between verses. Unexpected as they may be, both songs amount to the sound of a band that has aged gracefully. Even the upbeat tracks are far superior to their early-record counterparts. “Everything Must Go” is hard to forget, its repetitive chorus ringing loudly and infectiously despite the loose arrangement that serves as its backbone. “Monstertruck” works well enough to pass as an accessible pop rock tune regardless of its clumsy use of metaphors and the line “I fade like denim/ I break like art” during a misplaced bridge. And “Shark Bait” is wicked fun, drawing legitimate comparisons with the aforementioned Waits and his most recent effort, “Bad As Me,” as its quirkiness earns the band some respect as indie-leaning writers, ” (Frederick News Post, 2013)
“[These Poems With Kerosene] is full of the ragged Americana glory of songwriter Adam Trice’s lyrics and melodies. Trice is one of those songwriters who takes his word-smithery seriously—no ‘doo-wops’ and ‘yeah babies’ for this guy—and on this album he and his band team up with Steve Matanle, a poet and University of Baltimore professor with whom Trice shares a post-Beat, Tom Waits-ish sensibility,” (Baltimore City Paper, 2013)
“This time around, Adam Trice has hooked up with University of Baltimore professor Steve Mantele, who contributes poems–some with music, some without. The whole music/poetry thing is a bit pretentious, but it works pretty well in this instance, especially when accompanied by slide guitar. Mantele’s poems are short and sharp, and they never overstay their welcome. Trice’s roughhewn country blues are as loose and graceful as ever, and his growl is warm and inviting. Another fine set,” (Aiding & Abetting)
“Baltimore’s Adam Trice is ‘Red Sammy’ who writes the songs, sings and plays guitar. Lately his live shows have featured the fine dobro playing of John Decker, who I will assume is playing here. There is a steady rhythm section as well, but you almost would not know it with the dreamy long horizon on a slow journey feeling that these players produced. It is blues and folk and great care is given to the musical brushwork this band indulges in. It works its magic quite nicely in all thirteen tracks. Actually, there is music only eight of them as there are six poems (one set to music) by Steve Matanle that are featured here. They are mostly barroom stories and are short and easily slip onto the barstools set up between these songs. Trice is well known in Baltimore and regularly plays many stages around here. His work is getting better and better, or perhaps it is me who is more comfortable in his world. Whatever the case, he is worth getting out to when he comes to town and this record will a do a great job holding you over until then.” (DC Rock Blog, 2013)
“I wrote about this band before: they’re a tight folk-rock group from Baltimore, and their last album, a Cheaper Kind of Love Song, was a righteous, genre-busting stew. They contacted me a few weeks ago to see if I’d do a review of their new disc. I accept the task with pleasure, because if this album is any indication, they’ve lost none of their ambition. Most songwriters consider themselves poets, and on some level, I suppose they must be. But I’ve never ever liked a band because of their lyrics; what the singer is trying to express through his band is almost always the last thing I notice. Damn the elocution, it’s the sound we want, as the general who argued with the artillerist might have put it. But since the advent of the CD, some groups have taken it upon themselves to spice up the usual rotation of songs in the key of E(xpected) with the occasional spoken-word riff. Black Flag did it back in the 80′s, the White Stripes did it on their final album, and it’s become a staple of hip-hop to have random skits and poems and hidden tracks amidst the stone-cold rhyming. Red Sammy decided to give it a try this time around, working with University of Baltimore professor and published poet Steve Matanle on some short poetic works for this album, nestled amid the songs. Such a move can be precious, and it can be jarring, and it can be beside the point. But it doesn’t have to be, and given the low-key feel of the songs (such as “Woodbourne”), taking a minute just for voice to tell us about the Hobbies of the Damned (the longest poem, clocking in at 1:29) hardly throws the album off. Rather, it provides a kind of thematic focus. I hear a hunger for elevation, for escape, that crosses both the poems and the songs, especially tunes such as “Friends” and “Shark Bait”, which do their level best to create an impression of Tom Waits, if Tom Waits could enunciate. Lost souls wander in and out, hoping for something, resigned to nothing, or in any case, nothing new. It’s a dark vision, and suffering is the only thing that seems to penetrate the gloom. It would make sense for me to say that the band eased off the gas on the songs to make them fit this vision, but I don’t know if I can. Because it makes even more sense to say that this is exactly the kind of vision Red Sammy was made to sell. Sure, maybe only the album-opener “Better That Way” kicks with that late-60′s Stones feel of A Cheaper Kind of Love Song, but who needs a band to sound the same all the time? This album, like all blues, elevates misery to art. We can all use a bit of that now and again,” (Andrew J. Patrick, Scribbler, Scholar, Geek)
As trotted out since across numerous gigs and two albums, 2007’s self-titled debut and 2009’s Dog Hang Low, Trice and a shifting cast of musicians explore what the band’s web site dubs “graveyard country rock,” an atavistic sound that borrows from the croon and ache of country, the plainspoken austerity of folk, and a touch of the clanking Americana of mid-period Tom Waits, all highlighted by Trice’s front-and-center lyrics and gravelly voice. New album A Cheaper Kind of Love Song expands the project’s horizon’s a bit with a fuller, harder-driving band sound. Meanwhile the lyrical themes evoke The Road—not the Cormac McCarthy novel, though maybe that’s in there somewhere too, but themes of travel, departure, even escape, as well as the nearly mandatory rock ’n’ roll road song, “Rock Star,” except Red Sammy’s version involves “[driving] five hours to camp in a junkyard. Baltimore City Paper (2011)
Red Sammy’s Adam Trice played a handful of these songs solo at The Windup Space in April, with just an acoustic guitar and a hushed desperation that infused every line. With his band, Trice retains that compelling quality but also brightens the sound with a fine-tuned mix of twangy guitar, brushed and beaten drums, and a smattering of atmospheric keyboards. The sparse, sparkling instrumentation softens Trice’s raspy-to-rough vocals to the point where listeners will gladly follow him down darkened roads to the trailer parks and junkyards populating his songs. Baltimore Magazine (2011)
A Cheaper Kind of Love Song‘s country/folk has one very noticeable distinguishing feature: a gravelly, broken, Tom Waits-ian voice leading the way… the voice is the band; other than the sung notes, the songs are very nice, unimpeachable country/folk tunes… for those taking things on a case-by-case basis, it’s less simple. You can’t count the whole album as a simple “take it or leave it” endeavor, as the band has an upbeat side and a mellow side. “Come Back Home” turns Trice’s rasp into a roar that gives the shambling tune power; “It Ain’t You (Carolina Road Anthem)” doesn’t electrify the song in the same way as the previous, but it certainly fits in authentically. The slower work, which is most of the other six songs on the album, leans on the contrast between Trice’s low, gruff croak and the smooth, folky instrumental performances. Trice summons a surprising amount of pathos on the downtrodden “Baltimore,” making it a standout on the album. “Cactus Flower” is less empathetic, but still memorable. A Cheaper Kind of Love Song is divisive, but a recognition that Tom Waits has been rocking his shtick for over 40 years proves that there’s an audience for sounds like these. If you’re in the market, this is an album you’ll want to pick up. Adventurous types are also recommended to check it out. Independent Clauses (Music Review)
Although Trice sometimes performs solo, as a live band, Red Sammy comes in many forms and fashions, often in a full rock-band formation or with small groups of musicians. Consistent with other albums, Trice’s voice resembles a young Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, his hoarse croak effectively channeling the mournful regions of the heart and soul. Urbanite Magazine
“Life is a song for Red Sammy and it’s beggin’ to be played, even in its troubles.”Camping Trailer” (a bit bumpkin sounding, I know) believe it or not, is about fleeing life, taking a little spare love. Between the song’s two verses, it’s hard to tell if Trice is heading home or leaving it, yet strangely that seems to be the point. He’s constantly in motion, as unbound as the steel slide proceeding the verses. Nonetheless, he “finds a happiness in failure,” and she sits beside him as he drives in that unbounded state. It’s a clever metaphor. No matter what’s up in the air, love is always near to him. Meanwhile, “Rockstar” tells the woeful aspirations of making music for a living: living on the road out of cars, off of bar food, and playing songs for the wounded. The questionably satirical lines in the song strip down the typical rockstar lifestyle and humble it, and consequentially, allude to a deeper, stranger, even darker enjoyment in performing music.I find my favorite songs on the album, however, to be the more tame ones…A Cheaper Kind of Love Song: what could be cheaper than the strife we are given? We can run from it (and do run from it), but as long as we love, we can’t avoid it. The glory of love is in it’s strife and our desire and ability to overcome it. That may or may not be what Trice had in mind when he wrote the album, but that’s what I’m reminded of when I listen to it. Life sucks and love is hard, but every step is a service well worth it. It reminds you that you are alive,” Shaking like a Mountain
Baltimore boy Adam Trice indulges the whiskey-soaked side of his personality with his “graveyard country” band Red Sammy. These songs feature Trice’s raspy growl, sloppy slide guitar and some of the more arresting songs I’ve heard in quite a while.These pieces don’t so much prickle the ears as inhabit the brain. Trice uses his music to bring out the flavor of his vocals, and the rest of Red Sammy seems wired in to the intensely loose groove. This sort of music has to sound offhand, even if it isn’t. Trice certainly put in his work on the writing side, but he and the band play like I imagine they would on stage. There are flubs galore, but they’re like blue notes: They flavor the stew.And what a tasty dish! A lot of folks overthink their approach to Americana and such. Red Sammy simply plays the songs. And damned if that isn’t exactly the right way to go. Aiding and Abetting
As the title suggests, is the collection plate, a perspective on the best worst state in which one can be: love. The continuous sound of the pieces is very southern-rock, often with an exposed position of bass and drums. But unlike, say, the current Kings Of Leon Red Sammy remain very traditional and the sound does not lead into popular listening habits. This can be conservative, even retrogressive find, but the craftsmanship is little to blame musicians. In “Camping Trailer” skilfully caress acoustic and slide guitar, similar to the following “Cactus Flower”. “Rock Star” could almost be described as psychedelic country, “Come Back Home” is a surprisingly indie rock. Overall, “A Cheaper Kind of Love Song” was nothing more for cool indie-Tronics handset, but who Ryan Adams, the old Kings of Leon and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club “Howl” might even give this album a chance. (Soundmag Review, German Translation to English)
There is a sub-genre of folk music called Loner Stoner Folk. Baltimore’s Red Sammy takes Appalachian, folk, and blues, and heads off in this direction while bringing it down some more. This may be wyrdfolk, although that is not to imply there is anything other worldly dominating here. This is grounded music and locks into a steady controlled pace with a basic rhythm section allowing guitars to maneuver about in their driving and sometimes snaky foreboding manner. The key is the slide guitar which pushes and pulls in a gentle, mystical motion. The vocals veer a bit too much in the Tom Waits direction for my taste (as I am mixed on Waits), but after a couple of songs, they begin to fit the music more comfortably. It also depends on the song. Fans of 16 Horsepower and Peter Walker will want to listen to this along with anyone interested in darker folk songs such as you may hear from Stone Breath or even Michael Chapman at times. There is a lot to listen to in these eight songs. I am sure I will know a lot more after several further listens. DC Rock Blog
Red Sammy’s Adam Trice crafts shambling roots rock on a foundation of hushed melancholia. Although his gravelly voice suggests a Dylan influence, his slow-burn delivery points to something more measured. The lyrics don’t tumble out so much as they escape, buoyed by Katie Feild’s excellent harmony vocals, Josh Weiss’s guitar and banjo, and Theron Melchior’s musical saw. John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine, 2009 CIUT-FM
“Don’t be afraid to try something new…Red Sammy is brilliant,” Ricardo Baca, Denver Post, 2009
“Singer/songwriter Adam Trice and his crew create finely honed, melancholy roots rock. Trice’s raspy baritone rides herd on quiet, ambling country rock, creating the perfect dusky atmosphere for the brooding tunes…tracks like “Songbird,” “Turn Away” and “Lord Don’t Break My Back” keep the mood both tuneful and mournful. If the band had appeared during the heyday of No Depression, it would have deservedly been a minor star. As it stands, Red Sammy certainly deserves attention on the strength of the music found here.” The Big Takeover
Cool, soft, understated pop with subtle haunting qualities. Red Sammy was created by singer/songwriter Adam Trice who has a voice that sounds not unlike a very young Leonard Cohen…we can almost guarantee that after hearing “(Shine) Like An Empty Prison” and “Postmark My Apologies” they will be resonating in your head for months and/or years to come. Other favorites include “Songbird” and “Lord Don’t Break My Back.” Good stuff, solid. (Rating: 5) Babysue.com
Trice husks and growls over melodic and brooding, intense and hypnotic backing from his band mates, in which Josh Weiss’s electric guitar stands out as it chimes out the melody. Trice tells tales of everyday darkness and despair while sounding like a man who gargles gravel in pints of bourbon. Nonetheless he does offer hope of at least some sort of tomorrow, even if it’s not necessarily a better one or an easy one to get to. The band turns it up from time to time, as on “Lord Don’t Break My Back” but in general it’s all quietly intense stuff with a real raw power to the performances, and in Trice the band have a major songwriter who bears comparison with Malcolm Holcombe or Nick Cave. Not for the fainthearted perhaps but connoisseurs of the night should acquire forthwith.” Americana UK