The title “Love Letters” conjures up images and ideas of a romantic time and space. When was the last time you put pen to paper to express your love, going through through six drafts before you got the words just right? Sure those moments being lovestruck were exhausting in their own right, but they were inherently fun. There’s a special kind of perseverant energy that goes into that kind of love. The kind we need because we’re all so jaded. That’s the aesthetic of this record, the first full length from solo artist Sammy Kay released October 29, 2013.
Not to be confused with big band leader Sammy Kaye, this Sammy is a Jersey-born road warrior who, after spending time on the road with The Forthrights, decided it was time to focus his efforts on a solo project. He’s a disciple of King Django and it shows in the way the rocksteady rhythms are crafted. The songwriting channels the Brill Building sound; a perfect blend of 60s pop, soul, and R&B. What’s truly distinctive is his voice. I think as a Bostonian I gravitate towards raspy singers. When Tor Skoog (RIP) of The Kings of Nuthin’ growled “Get Busy Livin’ or Get Busy Dying’,” you knew he meant it. When Dicky Barrett screams “The noise, well it’s just love that gets caught in my throat,” you feel the pain in your own throat and want to help him rip it out! Sammy isn’t quite that gnarly or angry. He’s letting out his inner Tom Waits and it’s the sincerity you’re hearing.
Sammy Kay and the East Lost 3 – “Love Letters”
You should know that my mother is a child of the 60s and my father is passionate about the Big Band era. “Love Letters” has so many of the sounds I grew up with that the record felt so familiar on the first listen. The backing band is impeccable and the songs are lush with harmonies and oohs and ahhs in all the right places. Track 1, side 1, shares the same name as the record and immediately sets the tone and pace of the record with an earnest lovelorn rocksteady number. “Second Avenue” is a sweet soulful R&B tune that feels like flashback. The tempo picks up with “Sweet Misery,” my favorite on the record sporting a skinhead reggae rhythm and praise for the beauty and familiarity of unhappiness. “Pictures” could easily have appeared on a Trojan Records rocksteady compilation. “She’s My Baby” is another soulful song reminiscent of late 60s R&B. The first sounds of ska doesn’t arrive until “Highs and Lows,” a duet featuring the complementary voice of Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers. Side 1 closes with a downtempo, dark bluesy plea for forgiveness with haunting horns.
Side 2 kicks off with the very rhythm driven “Baby You Lose,” taunting an ex with “it’s you, not me, your loss.” The only instrumental is the rocksteady “Old Man’s Porch” featuring the unique saxophone playing of David Hillyard, also of The Slackers, and Mr. T-Bone (the stage name for Luigi De Gaspari from Milan). The band flexes their reggae chops a bit further with the darker “Eye of the Storm.” My second favorite track, “Heart So True” is emblematic of the record’s theme asking “what’s a boy to do with a heart so true?” to a ska beat. On “One Trick Pony,” Sammy hands the mic to King Django, Queen P, and Nathan Ranking for their own toasting session. “Lost My Youth” and “I Can Change” close out the record and you can almost see the credits rolling for the road trip flick. “I Can Change” really book ends the record with some ska and the requisite shout outs, chatted by Sammy himself.
If nothing else, the record inspires you to dance, sway, and hold someone to matters to you. If you were jaded when you started, you’ll feel just a bit less so. Do yourself a favor and pick this record up on vinyl and hear it the way it was intended. Panic State and Asbestos Records both have vinyl available. You can of course hear it on iTunes and Spotify as well.
Sammy Kay’s next closest performance is March 1st in Providence for the RI Ska Productions 6th Anniversary Show, sharing the stage with The Allstonians, The Screw-ups, The New Limits, and Ocean Roots, and backed by his east coast band The Fast Four, featuring members of The Snails. I believe he’s looking for a show in the Boston area on Friday, February 28th, so if you can help him out, get at him on Facebook.
Sammy Kay and the Fast Four – “Your Way” – 4/20/2013, The Midway Cafe, JP