Have you ever felt like disappearing from society? Or had that exigent urge to run away from the noise of city life? Maybe you’d like to trade the feeling of disappointment associated with the current political climate for a feeling of exhilaration by joining a commune somewhere in the woods and living out your days bathing in a stream and sleeping in a hammock. Now the real question, if you were to abandon reality and reconnect with the great outdoors, what album would be the soundtrack to your life? Unsure? Allow me to introduce ‘Songdreaming’, the new project by Sam Lee.

It’s nothing short of fascinating that a singer like Lee exists in 2024. I was momentarily perplexed when I heard a voice, that could only be compared to a hybrid of Jim Reeves and Donovan, begin serenading me through my beat up Sony headphones. Amazing, this man can really sing! There’s nothing I admire more than a voice that is so coated in natural talent that it has the ability to evoke emotion from its audience almost effortlessly. But now we’ve established he can sing, what does Sam Lee have to say?

It is evident even from the very beginning of ‘Bushes and Briars’, the album’s opening track, that the subject matter is heavy. This isn’t your average folk record about a man pining for a woman and nor is it a cliché country trope of aimlessly describing tumbleweeds or sunsets to sound interesting, this is a man who cares deeply, passionately and wholeheartedly about nature. Each track is an entire journey in itself, track one gently encourages its listener to feel at peace, almost easing one into a meditative like state before ramping up the stakes. Suddenly, the beautiful instrumentation increases gloriously in intensity; Lee is transparent with his frustration in the way humanity has neglected nature and emphasises these emotions both verbally and through song.

One of the most admirable qualities about Songdreaming’s second track is the addition of a transgender choir, the London Based ‘Trans Voices’, which accounts for over 20 vocalists. It’s equally as refreshing that Lee doesn’t specify who he’s singing to in terms of gender, addressing them simply as “my love”, allowing the listener to relate its lyricism to their love – regardless of whom they may be.

Other highlights on the album include ‘Leaves of Life’, a masterpiece almost cinematic in production. The track has a sense of urgency about it, almost as if it’s insisting to its listener that humanity is the lock on the door to change.

Lee’s brutal vulnerability throughout ‘Songdreaming’ is both heart-shattering and commendable. One might even feel drained after listening to a tune like ‘Green Mossy Banks’, simply due to the sheer volume of emotion and gentle sentiment packed into its four minute duration. It’s spectacularly impressive that the album has no track shorter than four minutes and yet it delivers such whimsy and delight that the listener is guaranteed to still yearn for more.

‘Aye Walking Oh’ is a gem in Lee’s discography, starting acapella for almost an entire minute, the song is simple and yet so splendid. With the perfect slither of reverb and accompanying instrumentation, it feels as if it’s depicting the self-exploration of the vocalist’s wandering soul; imagine the soul is a rainforest and every sound we hear is that of a harmony from each critter.

It would be careless of me not to add that Sam Lee’s vocal cry is exceptional, there are moments it almost sounds as if he might even start yodelling, he could likely give Franzl Lang a run for his money if he did.

‘Sweet Girl McRee’ is a tear-jerking ballad that perfectly phases out the record, a haunting piece that will likely leave its listener pondering “what on earth have I just listened to and where can I hear more?”

‘Songdreaming’ is Sam Lee on top form, it’s a diverse album that has the profound ability to transport you from the overstimulated confines of your own mind into that commune in the woods I mentioned earlier. The precision of the production, direction and composition on this record is immaculate. Bernard Butler and James Keay are nothing short of outstanding in their contribution to this body of work, the former being producer and the latter a composer. Whilst Lee’s majestic pipes could sell out venues simply singing the phonebook, it’s the production, instrumentation and mixing that truly gives the record a unique dream-like quality that allows the vocalist to transcend the boundaries of genre and carve out his own lane in the folk scene. In fact, Sam Lee isn’t just in his own lane, ‘Songdreaming’ proves he owns the entire damn freeway.

Sam Lee: Songdreaming – Out 15th March 2024  (Cooking Vinyl)

Lee – Bushes and Briars (Official Music Video) in association with Emergence Magazine (youtube.com)