If you queued up Sam Filiatreau’s self-titled debut album and said “it sounds like this guy just disappeared into the American wilderness and converted someone's journal into an LP”, you’d pretty much sum up this project’s origin story. Filiatreau went from a last minute house show gig to recording eight tracks ranging from quirky two step to haunting ballad over the course of three days in a cabin in the woods. The result is an easy-listening, yet emotionally-motivated collection of folk songs, each able to transport you back into the 1970's upon first listen.
The Kentucky-born artist caught the ears of Taylor Meier and Matt Vinson, two parts of folk band Caamp, one night as they sat in the audience listening to Filiatreau's set. Their interest led to him landing the first spot on Meier’s new record label Gjenny Records and the three artists spending those three days in an Ohio cabin capturing the stripped-back essence of the album. Sam Filiatreau offers a welcome escape from current times if that's what you need from an album, the songs leaning heavily into the old, timeless storytelling influence of the genre. That escapism takes true form in uncomplicated compilations of instrumentals and lyrics narrating common life experiences. The tracks either carry a lighthearted acoustic sound or hit heavily through Filiatreau’s melancholy campfire-side crooning.
An obvious standout is single “El Camino”, a ballad drenched in raw heartbreak told through the simplicity of a picked acoustic guitar that eventually turns to a slowed strumming hand. The song gradually unfolds to welcome a muted lone percussion, these aching instrumentals matching the lyrics as they account the finality of love’s ending.
Immediately following is “Hold Me”, a fast paced ditty at home in a lively saloon in a different decade. The contrast between the tracks is a good natured nod to Filiatreau’s laid-back approach to piecing together this collection. “I feel like whenever I’m writing songs or music, I’m trying to find that fine line of doing something well, but also not taking it too seriously,” he says about the album. “To me, this record feels loose and fun. It feels exactly like the time we had at that cabin, which is cool. I feel like we captured exactly what was going on there.” The purity of the song crafting experience appears more obvious in some parts of the album – the trio talking and laughing at the end of “Ashes”, a soft and sweet track narrating a new perspective after time has passed and hindsight is granted.
Filiatreau names John Prine, Randy Newman, and Townes Van Zandt as influences, and the inspiration from the lyrical honesty of these artists is not lost on Filiatreau. “Silver Highway” is like cruising through the magical world of the Appalachians, prominent guitar notes leading the charge as Filiatreau comes in with the story of a home-leaving cowboy. “Wrecking Ball” invites you to sway back and forth as he pokes fun at his many mannerisms.
The album ends with “Fine by Me”, the track most reminiscent of a John Prine song. The late lyrical mastermind is known for his seemingly simple lines yet deep cutting metaphors. Filiatreau sings about living in a little house in Louisville, with small details like kids growing and hair greying and following his sweetheart to the grave when the time comes. All this said in a quiet starkness that tears at the heartstrings, making you homesick for a home you may never have wanted before hearing about it. It’s a fitting conclusion to an album that is overflowing with candor and nostalgic instrumental melodies.