Sam Gleaves; Ain't We Brothers (samgleaves.com)

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Sam Gleaves: Two Virginia Boys
Sam Gleaves; Ain't We Brothers (samgleaves.com)

This album slipped out in the US in the last quarter of last year but saw no New Zealand release . . . but no matter, that's why we have the internet, iTunes, Spotify and so on.

Gleaves is something of a rarity perhaps (although maybe not as rare as cliche might suggest) in that he is a gay singer-songwriter from southwest Virginia who explores traditional Appalachian music and writes his own strong originals in the idiom.

And – despite being an accomplished scholar with a degree in academic folklore — he delivers these songs -- some obscure old time songs alongside a few familiar ones and his own work -- like a working class, hard-scrabble farmer and soulful singer-songwriter.

The banjo-pickin' title track is based on the life of a gay West Virginia coal miner — who did all expected of him in his tough, blue-collar man's world but was derided for his sexuality — and comes with a compassionate clarity.

The words, “Ain't we flesh and blood on through, ain't we brothers too” make the point with little other plea or explanation required.

Fiddle-driven songs (the reflective Just Like Jordan) and the Carter Family's My Dixie Darlin'  (given a twist) are here alongside heel-clickin' dances (Froze up/Callahan), the autobiographical (Two Virginia Boys) and the political songs (“Angels in Ashes”, a tribute to activists of all kinds who put themselves in the frontline).

Sam Gleaves' name will hardly be familiar but he is courageous and interesting storyteller who on the evidence here most often sounds closer to the James Taylor tradition than the rough-hewn Appalachian folk styles.

Al through this impressive collection however he is a distinctive voice and a writer with something to say.

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