Sam Riggs - Breathless

Sam Riggs
Deep Creek Records/Thirty Tigers 

I love coming across new names, especially when I instantly connect with them. Sam Riggs, originally from Florida, but now firmly entrenched in Austin, Texas, writes songs with meat, giving them the needed flesh and bone structure that makes friends that stick around for a long time.  I’ve not heard OUTRUN THE SUN, his first album, so I came to BREATHLESS with no preconceived expectations. From the first notes of opener The Lucky Ones, this album draws your attention in, with its unpredictable hooks and interesting turns. An overarching theme of journeying and travelling, the album showcases the freedom that comes from the journey both physically and existentially. That song sets the tone for the album in a loosely thematic way. Not every single song is about travelling, but they all touch on themes of longing, searching, and questioning. All of this reflects a sense of exploration through journeying for the sake of the journey, but also in hopes of gaining freedom. Freedom from ourselves, freedom from expectation of others, freedom from whatever is holding you back. With candid words and spirited instrumentation, Sam seamlessly shifts the mood from isolation to levels of resilience and warmth.

Each song represents a moment in his life where he experienced either love or heartache. The album’s title track and the rap-like Wake The Dead burst open and break out with determined breathlessness. Through a synergy of smooth and smoky vocals, Sam tackles the universal theme of uncertainty and the fear that accompanies moving forward into the unknown to open new horizons. Gravity is an awe-inspiring song of being trapped in a small-town and the dream of escaping, even if it’s only for a few hours on a hill on the outskirts of town, looking down on a dead-end life. There’s real tension running through the rhythmic The Heartbreak Girl, with the kind of grit, swagger and twang custom-made for those who forgot what real country music sounds like. Sam’s heartfelt vocals give listeners a sense of familiarity and wisdom, while his lyricism leaves no room to sugar coat the truths of life.

Secondhand Smoke, a haunting ballad, gets you absinthe-drunk on the warbly guitar and Sam’s soul-toned vocal that brings to mind a brooding 3am soul on a barstool, a glass of whisky in hand. High On A Country Song, an obvious autobiographical song, reminded my of Alan Jackson’s Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow, except that this one is way harder as you can literally smell the sawdust and sweat. These songs are universal with everyday worries fuelling everyman anthems. The modern world might be a cruel and uncaring place, but while Sam Riggs plays and sings, everything seems momentarily brighter, better, drunker and more up for a dance as he creates intimate, heartfelt songs rooted in traditional Americana.