You'll forgive Sam Golden for leaning a bit heavily on his 24-carat last name. The singer, multi-instrumentalist, sideman and arranger wears several hats — many of them wide-brimmed — but his own projects use the family name to good effect. There's the Fiddlin' Sam & the Golden Bolo Band, his western-swing cover band making its debut this week; he also sells literal bolo ties through the Golden Bolo Company; and his latest project, the indie-leaning Vermilion Cliffs, used to play under the name Golden Hour.
He's reviving the Golden Hour name as the title of this Friday's showcase at Off Broadway, which features his two aforementioned bands as well as the Brothers Lazaroff, with Golden playing keys as well as serving as co-producer on the group's latest album Sisters & Brothers. And while Golden will certainly be busy hop-scotching across three pretty different bands, Friday's show will be only a small piece of his musical life.
Reached by phone recently, Golden was ending his nine-to-five workday, in which he teaches piano, guitar and audio production at various schools and after-school programs. "I am trying to phase out of teaching music, which I like, but my real passion is playing and arranging and playing," he says. "I work exclusively in the music world."
After moving to St. Louis from Tucson, Arizona, in the summer of 2016, Golden quickly became a sideman and studio secret weapon. He's played trad-jazz with T.J. Muller, scored silent film soundtracks with the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra and strummed along with Jenny Roques' project Desire Lines. Golden has also worked on production and arrangement for a number of local artists.
"I did some string arrangements for Nick Gusman that I recorded yesterday, and I did the strings for Cara Louise's new album," Golden says. Part of his work on the Brothers Lazaroff record involved writing horn arrangements for trumpeter Adam Hucke and saxophonist Ben Reece, a pair of first-call players and band leaders in their own right. "That's been really cool, getting to write horn parts for two powerhouse players. It's helped me hone my mind's ear."
Vermilion Cliffs, which releases its self-titled debut at this weekend's show, is perhaps the clearest distillation of the many moods and talents that Golden has leant to other bands around town. Performing largely as a four-piece with several guest musicians, the band's eight-track LP moves from jammy indie rock to moody, jazz-flecked dirges to an honest-to-God slow jam.
"I got a lot of help from a lot of talented people, from the Bros Laz world and the jazz world," Golden says. "It was definitely a labor of love. It was the only project where I wasn't thinking about the bottom line; I wanted to make these songs really good and a work of art that hangs together as a whole."
Golden is joined by Jack Catalanotto on guitar and vocals, Andrew Warshauer on bass and Marty Aubuchon on drums, and together they are able to craft atmospheric, dexterous backdrops to Golden's sweetly malleable vocals. "Face Down" floats in with the smell of sea breeze, and "San Carlos" brings in a bit of twangy desert-noir befitting an Arizona native. But when the band opens its doors to guest musicians, the whole flavor of the album can change: Reece's saxophone raises the barometric pressure of "AZ," a song that Golden acknowledges as having "serious Blackstar vibes," in reference to David Bowie's final, darkly jazzy album.
"Snakeskin," with its silky, grown-and-sexy energy, calls on drummer Grover Stewart and pianist Jesse Gannon to summon some Quiet Storm bonafides.
"That was a song with a really long gestation period," Golden says. "I was listening to a lot of 95.5 [FM] and it morphed into a slow jam. I wanted to write a really sexy song about being sad and lonely. I wanted to write the most lush harmonies possible, with these lush string pads."
Despite — or because of — the album's variety, Vermilion Cliffs gives as complete a picture of its creator across its eight songs. "I tried to make it feel like one solid object," Golden says. "This is the first album I've wanted to listen to after finishing it. I think that's a good sign."
As he winds down a busy 2019, Golden is hoping to continue his own musical pursuits while helping others achieve theirs. "I'm looking forward to more arranging and getting my mind back in a creative place with my own music, because it's just been in promotion and business mode for a while," he admits.
As for Vermilion Cliffs? The chameleonic Golden isn't ready to predict its next steps.
"I'll have to see what happens," he says of the band. "It might turn into something else entirely. "