Samm Henshaw Album Review: Untidy Soul
If you asked me to describe Samm Henshaw’s music I could give you a pretty robust and accurate description. It’s gospel-infused with elements of R&B and sprinkles of jazz. He makes music like a Pastor’s son who grew up in church playing multiple instruments, who then stopped going to church during uni, now identifies as spiritual and makes music inspired by the church that raised him. Speaking to Samm after his listening party he confirms that my summary is almost 100% - his Dad is a Reverend, he took offering, played every instrument - except the fact that he actually still attends church.
The room at the listening party is filled with excitement. Excitement because it’s Samm’s debut album after years of releasing singles, his first release as an independent label and probably the first time he’s been in the same room as this many friends, fans and industry peers since March 2020.
The Q&A with Nadia Jay begins, he lets us know almost immediately that though his voice sounds like he’s singing personal experiences, it is and isn’t personal to him. In an attempt to process all he’s been through, Samm almost dissociates from the story, creating the fictional yet somehow still real character, Sunny, and it’s Sunny’s soul, not his that’s untidy.
The album opens with Thoughts and Prayers, Samm’s favourite song, and visuals on the cinema screen. The lyrics appear on-beat, making it easier for us to partake in these karaoke sessions. Other videos like Grow, Chicken Wings and Broke are shot entirely on film making it feel like we’re watching a film. “I loved shows like Atlanta, Insecure - and just the way their shot, the story they tell and I wanted to do something similar for Untidy Soul. So as we’re watching these beautifully shot videos, it’s like his music serves as the perfect soundtrack to a film about Sunny life - one of heartbreak, personal reckoning and dealing with all that comes with acquiring fame and success.
The album revolves around Samm reckoning and dealing with a breakup. The album’s heartbreak anthem, East Detroit, was inspired by him being dumped via phone just before a show he had in Detroit. He tries to manage the crowd’s boos and emotional reaction by saying his ex-girlfriend didn’t know he had a show, but that doesn’t make it easier to stomach. “We said Paris all spring, made names for the offspring, colours for the vows
where are you right now” is the opening line letting us know that he thought this was a forever love. It’s all about love, and we hear more of this love on Grow and Loved By You. The love he croons about straddles the line of spirituality and humanity, sometimes he’s singing about platonic love, but other times he’s talking about agape love “So, my source of joy has not been from the things I have, but it's been from being in His presence.
In the time of “fast food music” and shortening attention spans, Henshaw grabs our attention with this near-perfect debut album. “The album took me 4 years to finish” and you can hear the time taken in layering every harmony, perfecting every arrangement and the story of the album. The album’s intro, Still No Album, talks about Samm almost being rushed to finish and drop the album, but it’s the sort of project that required time and growth. It’s a testament, and a lesson to taking time with the things you love, and a melodic confirmation for the sceptics, cynics and risk-averse lovers that love, a pure platonic and agape love, does exist.