John T. Baker: ‘Flirting With Azrael’

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John T. Baker
Flirting With Azrael

John T. Baker has been both a mastermind and a utility player on the local music scene for years—as leader of the power-pop bands the French Broads and Econopop, guitarist and electronics manipulator for the experimental rock outfit Stolen Sheep, and regular contributor to the Westside Daredevils and the Ampient collective, in addition to guest appearances on stage and record with a handful of other notable local acts. He’s also composed and recorded, in his first-class home studio, a dozen or so solo albums of ambient music, chamber pop, and assorted stuff that doesn’t fit with his other groups.

Flirting With Azrael is, by all appearances, a pet personal project that took several years to finish. Even for someone with a background as varied as Baker’s, it’s an odd little record—a dark pop-rock opera with horns, sax, and sci-fi keyboard sounds alongside the expected guitar, bass, and drums provided by Baker’s frequent partners Gray Comer, Doug Campbell, Tim Lee, and George Middlebrooks. Some of the curveballs pay off better than others—Jason Thompson’s brief sax lines on “The Plan” and Emily Parker’s bassoon on “Time Is of the Essence” and “Hand” add texture and mood, but the spoken-word half-rap over glitchy electronic beats on “Put the Body on Ice” is a less welcome divergence. Likewise, some of the genre exercises on the disc—bossa nova guitar on “I Need Controlling” and a funky wah-pedal workout on “Black Magic”—are a little jarring. Flirting With Azrael is at its best when Baker sticks to melancholy guitar pop; there’s plenty of dark material here that’s well-served by understated songwriting and the clear chops of Baker’s supporting cast.


Senior Editor Matthew Everett manages the Knoxville Mercury's arts & entertainment section, including the comprehensive calendar section—Knoxville’s go-to guide for everything worth doing in the area. You can reach Matthew at

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