"He’s got such a heavenly voice and talent for writing deeply inspiring and intimately connective songs that to call him anything other than brilliant would be criminal"
- Mindy McCall, No Depression
"Baker's phrasing paired with the sparse arrangements captivate the listener. The title track - Baker's homage to the purifying qualities of nature - is a delight"
- John Sillberg, CKOL - Campbellford, Ontario
"Songs with clear intention, fingers with six-string skills, a voice that lifts the heavens, this man can give you chills"
- Ellis Paul, acclaimed songwriter and performer
With an upcoming new album due for release early next year, James Lee Baker is about to reaffirm the fact that he’s one of the most gifted emerging singer/songwriters on the Americana music horizon.
In 2019 alone, Baker made the final rounds in several prestigious competitions -- the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artists Showcase, Wildflower! Festival Al Johnson Songwriting Contest, International Acoustic Music Awards and Unsigned Only. He’s toured the Southwest, opening for the likes of Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert, and has become an established presence in the Folk Alliance community for the past two years.
With the new album in the works, Baker’s ready to cap those accomplishments, thanks to a set of songs featuring some of the most prodigious names in today’s modern folk circles. Recorded at Billy Crockett’s Blue Rock Studios by Chris Bell – the man behind the boards for The Eagles, Don Henley and Christopher Cross – the effort includes contributions from Doug Pettibone (John Mayer, Jewel, Lucinda Williams), Roscoe Beck (Leonard Cohen, Eric Johnson), Paul Simon’s Grammy winning accompanist Joel Guzman, singer/songwriter Mark Erelli, and Laurie MacAllister and Molly Venter from the famed folk group Red Molly.
Of course, none of these achievements happen merely through osmosis. Born in Amarillo Texas in 1983, Baker was raised in a Baptist family that served in leadership roles at their local church.
However, his parents were also musicians -- his dad was a drummer in various area rock bands while his mother played acoustic guitar. Baker himself picked up guitar at the age of 15 after his mother bought him his first electric guitar at a yard sale for $10 and his father gave him a bartered acoustic guitar a year later. In the months that followed, Baker began writing his own songs and participating in various high school talent shows.
He diversified in other realms as well. His self-published book of original poetry What I Really Think of You Since I’ve Woken Up led him to several wins at various college poetry competitions. He also competed in several slam poetry competitions, including those on a national level.
After graduating from college with a major in Information Technology and starting his career as a software engineer, he moved around the country for work, eventually returning to Texas. Shortly thereafter, his musical ambitions took hold when he began recording various acoustic projects using the nom de plume “J.L. Baker” between the years 2002 and 2010. In 2016, he caught a big break when Ellis Paul agreed to mentor him, and a short time later, he attended the New England Songwriter’s Retreat where Paul was one of the tutors.
He also began recording in earnest, beginning with a pair of EPs -- 2011’s Something You’ve Left Behind, which featured a cover of Ellis Paul’s unreleased track “Everything’s Broken,” and A Brilliant Defeat in 2014. He returned to recording in 2017 with the full-length LP Home Again, utilizing the Fiverr platform to recruit session players from across the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Four of its songs were gleaned for a radio sampler titled The Canadian River EP. The title track charted at number 23 on the Folk music charts and another track, “Disappear for the Weekend,” was included on two compilations representing the best new music from current Texas singer/songwriters. His song “Two Cageless Birds” was awarded the John O’Hara Singer-Songwriter Performance Grant in 2018.
The album itself charted in several folk and roots-oriented publications, garnering over 400,000 streams on Soundcloud and Spotify. That led to a number of enthusiastic accolades from several industry journals, music publications and radio programmers. Billboard cited him as an Emerging Artist to watch while No Depression hailed him for his “heavenly voice and talent for writing deeply inspiring and intimately connective songs,” rounding out its review by saying that “to call him anything other than brilliant would be criminal.” Mobangeles raved, “To put it simply, James Lee Baker is going places -- fast -- and if I were a betting man I would wager everything I’ve got that by the time 2020 rolls around, he’s going to be one of the biggest and more lucrative players in this industry.”
Clearly, Baker’s best efforts are still ahead of him, and with his upcoming album, he’s an artist that will be well worth watching.
-- Lee Zimmerman