March 2005

Sam Roberts - We Were Born in a Flame
Universal Music/Lost Highway B0003170-02
Format: CD
Released: 2004

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

A quick glance at the back-cover photo on We Were Born in a Flame might give you the impression that the Canadian singer and his band are the latest group to jump on the alt-county bandwagon. Hirsute and clad in worn jeans, the band’s appearance suggests pedal-steel guitars and ersatz twang, but the strongest influence on Sam Roberts is British pop. We Were Born in a Flame contains hints of everything from the Beatles to Radiohead, but Roberts has enough good ideas of his own to avoid sounding merely like an echo of other musicians.

Roberts is a confident songwriter who doesn’t let himself get tied down to a predictable songwriting style, so he and his versatile band play the garage rock of "On the Run" and the Kinks-like power pop of "Dead End" with equal punch and conviction. We Were Born in a Flame assiduously avoids predictability, but Roberts never seems to be trying anything on for size. He has a sure touch with melody and he knows the right instrumental elements to add to a song to make it come together. The recording could have given those details a little more space.

If Roberts can restrain from an occasional tendency to preach and can aim for more consistency, he has the skills to be a great rock'n'roll songwriter. Even songs that don’t quite work, such as "Where Have All the Good People Gone," have something -- a great chord change or keyboard line -- to keep you from skipping to the next track. Roberts’ biggest asset, aside from his own solid instincts, is a strong band that has a natural feel for what will put his songs across.

Don’t let the back-cover photo or the ornate, antique script on the front cover mislead you. These guys are born rockers.