Sweet Baboo (aka Steve Black) has long demonstrated a love for the self-referential: his first album was not only called “The Mighty Baboo” it opened with ‘Recapping All My Other Songs’. Now two years and two albums down the line here is the third Sweet Baboo record “I’m A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin’”, doubly titled as it is also released on vinyl with a title for each side. Repeated lyrical themes are also important to Sweet Baboo – virtually every track on 2009’s “Hello Wave” seemed to feature the word ‘darling’ – and the songs on this record do indeed feature dancing and sleep. But so, so much more as well.
With Black playing in so many other bands (Cate Le Bon, El Goodo, Spencer McGarry Season, Euros Childs, Wickes and H Hawkline for starters) the moniker Sweet Baboo is probably a good tactic to remind himself who and where he is when writing his own songs. But Sweet Baboo is so much more than a stage name. Behind the casual, boyish appearance (check the teenage bedroom collage album artwork) and apparent nursery-rhyme simplicity of some songs, is a complex personality and a sophisticated and witty songwriter.
The first, full-band version of ‘I’m A Dancer’ which opens the album may possess a casual bravado in the boasts of dancing prowess but on the second, stripped-down and slower version which completes side one, what becomes apparent is the fallibility and even vulnerability of Sweet Baboo. In this heart-laid-bare version, you realise how ‘dancing’ is a metaphor for infidelity and how he longs to be caught out and damned to hell. The transformation from upbeat to heartbreak confessional is stark.
That all sounds a bit grim but “I’m A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin” is actually a hugely fun – and funny - listen. A collection of folk-blues tall-tales, about moles, lungs, drinking or growing extra thumbs in compost (“you’ll need three for loving me”).
If you’ve seen Sweet Baboo live you will know what a genuinely funny entertainer he is. Here the uptempo skiffle of 'Who Would Have Thought' continues that tradition with uproarious lines about zombie collages and cut ‘n’ paste demons. But even the most jovial songs can reveal some hidden doubt, self-criticism or admission of weakness. And then there is the tenderness and heartfelt emotion of ballads such as ‘If I Died Would You Remember That You Loved Me’. As I said: this impressive record is about so much more than dancing and sleeping.
Over the three Sweet Baboo records there is a clear growth in confidence and ambition as a song-writer. But for all their convoluted lyrics, surreal imagery and emotional depth, these are instantly accessible and catchy melodies, delivered with minimal studio trickery and a refreshing lack of à la mode flourishes.
I’ve tried to think of other singular artists who could be compared to Sweet Baboo (Daniel Johnston? Euros Childs? Woody Guthrie? Loudon Wainwright?) but all feel inadequate or inappropriate. The mark of a true original? It is equally difficult to find a single song to represent the album – and on each time I listen I discover a new favourite. Currently this is the quiet pastoral folk of ‘Y’r Lungs’ – and it only takes one listen to this to realise that Sweet Baboo is so much more than a “fool on a North Walean hill with a bottle of rum”.
Even the Welsh tourist board has recognised the talents of Sweet Baboo – earlier this year they used a re-worked 'How I’d Live My Life (aka The Bumblebee Song)’ from “Hello Wave” to soundtrack a TV advertising campaign. I hope this new record (his first for Shape Records) continues to win recognition and fans for his music. It deserves to - you will be hard-pushed to find a more humane and witty record this year. Despite his claims otherwise, the only thing clumsy about “I’m A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin” is its title.
Sweet Baboo - Y'r Lungs via FollyOfYouth
I'm A Dancer / Songs About Sleepin [BUY]