Finally. So wonderful to see an album deemed lost, released. And even more so considering this is a magnum opus. British singer, guitarist, and songwriter Tom Baxter cast off the rich arrangements he embraced on his second album Skybound to bring us this wonderful gem of an album: The Uncarved Block. By doing so, he let his very intimate songs breathe, singing them in his own intense voice only, accompanied by ‘just’ guitar or piano, to let a full range of emotions hit us like a tidal wave.
Baxter went through a rough patch after his tour following Skybound‘s success. This was a period filled with moments of disappointment and hope, and it damaged his faith in love. The Uncarved Block reflects that period. Baxter wrote his songs before finally losing a great love, and you can hear them breathe his insecurity and foreshadow a relationship doomed to fail. He wasn’t aware of this at the time, he told me later, although subconsciously he was already looking back at the relationship, trying to discover where it all went wrong.
I received and listened to the album in June 2013. It was so beautiful, I was stunned. Songs with so many emotional layers I had of course heard before, but I never expected Baxter’s to hit me that hard. I saw him perform during that time, twice in fact, once at an acoustic show for a select group of friends, in a rather special venue in Italy, and once accompanied by strings during our fourth Written Presents concert. Two shows that were so intense and emotional, I embraced them and have held them in my heart ever since.
The Uncarved Block is a musical road signposted by lyrics. They are a continuous trigger, highlighted by the sparse accompaniment and Baxter’s frontal voice. Although in his songs love is still very much alive, as I mentioned earlier, he uses the past tense quite often (String and Bow). He searches within himself to find out what went wrong in the relationship (Hosanna, Love Is Not Enough, Sugarcane) and finds hope in between (Lift Up My Wings).
Baxter also incorporates other love stories to reflect on his own. Boy Beneath The Stone is a wonderful song and his special take on how Leonardo da Vinci created his masterpiece the David. It’s a song that combines Baxter’s unmistakable talent for writing with some fantastic guitar work.
His guitar work on The Uncarved Block is incredibly beautiful. He has successfully included a variety of Flamenco elements in his folk-influenced guitar sound, elements he mastered in Spain during several tough lessons. They have really enriched the album. Hosanna, String and Bow, and the masterfully virtuoso guitar parts in Love is Not Enough are proof of that.
Baxter is himself quite at home behind the piano, but nonetheless asked his friend Danny Keane to provide the parts for his title track and Sugarcane, just so he could fully concentrate on his vocals. Together, Keane and Baxter have created breath-taking songs with a firm structure, songs evoking a wild range of emotions. Baxter’s incredibly intense voice may have something to do with this, too.
Like so many songwriters before him, Baxter transformed the misery of his personal life, of loves lost, to create an undeniable masterpiece. The Uncarved Block is Tom Baxter at the top of his game. He has proven his masterful songwriting skills with his debut album Feather and Stone, emphasized them with Skybound, and now the musical arrangements have been all but left out on this new album offering us ‘merely’ his voice accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano, and it lets us experience the intensity and wonder of his songs even better.
The Uncarved Block is a timeless, unequalled album by an artist who deserves much more attention. And now it’s here, on vinyl, a beautiful gatefold cover with stunning photos on the inside and an extra sheet with lyrics included, and the album hits home once again, just as it did when we first heard it in 2013. A true masterpiece.