Sam Friend is a composer, guitarist and vocalist who has fronted bands in New Orleans and Manhattan. He has amassed quite a resume since 2011: his band The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys created a viral video featuring the theme from Game Of Thrones, and his original music has been featured on NCIS, on CBS and NPR and in Vanity Fair.com. His bands have headlined shows across the globe. And if that’s not enough, he’s also a part-time actor!
Friend’s last collection of original music was 2016’s Twin. For that album, reviewers compared him to Dr. John and James Taylor, and I’m glad they said it first because that’s exactly what I thought while listening to Coming Home.
Friend describes his music as “hard rock to folk, to jazz funk, Americana to blues.” For this album he enlists a stellar pickup band, most prominently Beck Burger (keys) and Bryce Eastwood (sax). Ace rhythm support is provided by Chris Severin (bass) and Nick Solnick (drums). Burger’s keyboards are especially fluent and tasteful, and Eastwood’s saxophone adds class to each song on which he appears.
This album was recorded at the famed “Studio” in Louisiana, where alumni such as Kansas, The Neville Brothers and Stevie Wonder have cut tracks. Not surprisingly, Friend’s recordings are as professional as you can get, thanks to the talent on both sides of the control room window. This is the sound of real musicians playing together under optimal conditions.
The title track “Coming Home” gives us the Dr. John part of Friend’s influence with vocals and organ very similar to Rebennack. This is a nice, fully produced blues-rock ditty with stylish sax. Great opener! We next veer to James Taylor territory on "Royal Street” with Friend picking crystalline patterns on acoustic guitar and providing a Sweet Baby James lead vocal. This touching song about love found (but in danger of being lost) has all the earmarks of a hit single from the mellow late ’70s.
“Meant To Find Light” features a rousing guest vocal by blues artist Alicia Renee (aka Blue Eyes) and feels to me like Burt Bacharach meets “Knights In White Satin.” Tight jazzy ensemble playing here, too. “Grindstone” has an upbeat gospel feel, again featuring Friend’s engaging vocals and a tasty Fender solo. “Only Yesterday” would feel right at home in a film noir feature with its smoky sax and easy vamping tempo. Friend’s vocals here stretch a bit and recalls Van Morrison. “I couldn’t write a song / and I cried my eyes out missing you” is a sentiment I can relate to. Nice climactic build in this track with wailing organ and (yes) saxophone!
“If I Don’t Have You” lands in a perfect spot for a faster-tempo rocker; a simple song about unrequited love that gets you moving. Billy Preston-style organ by Burger on this one. “The Island” is another gentle guitar-picked tune with that J. Taylor vibe.
“The One You Loved The Most” ends the album appropriately with a heavy gospel sound thanks to the chorus vocals of the Chapel Hart Band, evoking a memorial parade down Bourbon Street with mournful horns and rolling snares.
I Honestly can’t think of a single misstep on this fine collection, and listeners with fond memories of the soft rock & bluesy ’70s should find much to enjoy here. Evocative cover art by Lea Dolo Grzywacz as well.
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