The first solo release from Hey Rosetta! frontman Tim Baker reassures fans that, yes, he’s on his own, but no, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
I was admittedly conflicted about listening to Forever Overhead for the first time from start to finish. Those who know me are well aware that Hey Rosetta! sits atop the summit of my favourite all-time musical acts, and the announcement of their indefinite hiatus over a year and a half ago was gut-wrenching (more on that here). Frontman Tim Baker had been nurturing some of these pieces long before announcing the hiatus. Traditionally, Baker developed the skeleton upon which his bandmates would add the muscle and cartilage. As a solo artist, Baker now has total control of his creations, and his debut release is earnest, compelling, and bittersweet (more sweet than bitter, I must proclaim).
Baker hit the highways last year, travelling throughout the country and taking advantage of the Side Door phenomenon which allows artists to tour and perform without the hassle of booking bars and clubs. Instead, Side Door allows artists to play in intimate homes and spaces overseen by the registered host. With these performances, Baker introduced his new material, performing by himself on pianos, banjos, or acoustic guitars. Some of these performances were filmed and put onto his YouTube channel as part of the Side Door Sessions.
Many of Forever Overhead’s songs tip their hat to Baker’s homeland back in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “All Hands”, an early single, pays homage to all those who aided him in his musical blossoming. Real life and nature are prominent themes at the core of most songs, as Baker’s relatively recent relocation to Toronto influenced songs like “Strange River” and “The Sound of the Machines”. The former, though he bluntly claims to be “about having sex,” also hints at the vast differences between metropolitan condominium life and his misty, tight-knit community back in St. John’s.
While there’s a 1970s piano-based-folk-rock feel to Forever Overhead, a few tunes could have easily found their way into Hey Rosetta!’s catalogue. “Spirit”, a song Baker has been experimenting with for years, is a call to the grey, drab, yet welcoming and boldly beautiful essence of Newfoundland that would have been at home on Into Your Lungs or Seeds. “Two Mirrors” (my personal favourite) reinforces this belief that it could competently snuggle into older works of his: the opening piano chords come from the same family as Into Your Lungs’s “We Made a Pact”; the outro, featuring intricate piano work and saxophones, is reminiscent of “Handshake the Gangster” from the same album.
Lyrically, Baker is as poignant as ever. Side Door tour audience-pleaser “The Eighteenth Hole” and “Pools” evoke the despair of losing your one true love and how to cope with being in each other’s presence once again. Baker stated that “The Eighteenth Hole” is based on a true story in which he attended his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. It is quite pleasing to hear him deliberately mix in direct lines that can resonate with all listeners, as well as pen metaphors and semitransparent phrases that exemplify his creative writing academic background.
“Don’t Let Me Go Yet”, Forever Overhead’s closer, finds Baker at his most exposed. Featuring a crafty fade-in, this five-minute sax-infused kitchen-party anthem’s fade-out is haunting, eerie, and ominous. Baker continuously shouts “DON’T LET ME GO YET” in his highest register, as the swelling saxes and floor-tom grooves give way to his wails. The song, and the whole of Forever Overhead, is a glorious exclamation to the world that, yes, Tim Baker is on his own now, but no, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.