Tuesday, 15 May 2018

GIG REVIEW: Carter Sampson - Kitchen Garden, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Monday 14th May 2018

The entity of Carter Sampson: the singer-songwriter, is a compelling proposition and a wonderful find for anyone with a smart mind. A high degree of composure, warmth and assuredness reflects a performer at ease with life’s calling and epitomising the spirit of their surroundings, wherever they may be. This evening the dusty expanses of Oklahoma were traded for the gritty compactness of suburban Kings Heath; an apt location for the self-anointed Queen of Oklahoma to share the wealth of her wares for a night.

The most engaging of voices adorns an impressively curated arsenal of song selection. The rich texture of a vocal honed in the land where the South spills into the West possesses the capability to melt the heart of a listener, made even more effective in the confines of the acoustically perfected Kitchen Garden. For around an hour this evening, being transfixed and in awe was a non-negotiable journey bookended by the ‘Queen’ in semi-autobiographical mode. From opening with her trademark moniker track ‘Queen of Oklahoma’, written from an impish fantastical perspective, to a closing cover of the Shel Silverstein penned ‘Queen of the Silver Dollar’, the flow of affable chat, stories brimming with strong engagement and a fine musical arrangement eased every person in the room into a status of sublime comfort.

For this latest European excursion, Carter has teamed up with fellow Okies Jesse Aycock and Lauren Barth. They performed a duo set of deeply exhaled low tone harmonies in the opening slot before joining Carter in a trio format for the main event. Jesse switched from meticulous guitar playing to a similar approach on Dobro for his support role, while Lauren resumed on guitar with both adding their sumptuous harmonies periodically to Carter’s songs. The highlight of the opening set was Lauren delivering ‘I Won’t Let Love Make a Fool Out of Me’ off her latest album FORAGER. This ended up being the final song of the set that had increasingly drew you into a mesmerising snare and could have extended such as its trajectory.

2016 proved to be the introductory year for Carter Sampson on a wider stage. WILDER SIDE scaled to album of the year status in certain circles and a multitude of live shows included an appearance at the Maverick Festival. Fast forward two years and the latest trip across the pond is aligned with the release of the new record LUCKY, which proved to be the prime supplier of tracks in the show, including the title song.

Joining the widely covered Shel Silverstein piece from the new album in the set list were two other songs that Carter has borrowed. Not her usual source for song selection but when the quality is as high as ‘Hello Darlin’’ and ‘Tulsa’ the choice is an acute one. Both originate from an acquaintance of Carter in Zac Copeland and the former is having its first recorded outing on the record. It was certainly one of the highlights of many during the show. The other had the ubiquitous story attached, which put a different spin on the two Oklahoma cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

In fact, the stories flowed for most of the evening. The origin of ‘Rattlesnake Kate’ was recalled from the last tour and now the inquisitive nature to ‘google’ the phrase is enhanced by it finally appearing in a recorded form. ‘Ten Penny Nail’ is an attractive song especially for connoisseurs of seventies singer-songwriter music and the curious triangle between Townes Van Zandt, and Guy and Susanna Clarke.

Perhaps the song from the new record with the greatest potential to prosper is the unintroduced ‘Anything Else to Do’, a gorgeous love song that says all that needs to be said. It could be envisaged Miranda Lambert cutting it, such is the mood and effect. Maybe Miranda has a desire to be more like Carter Sampson these days, although a trade in a few dollars may be required.

While this was an evening for the older songs to be left behind (resurrect ‘Medicine River’ next time please), the title track from WILDER SIDE with all its gypsy soul tendencies made an appearance. Joining from the same album was the inspirational ‘See the Devil Run’. This track was given a renewed lease of life with the introduction of it documenting a visit to Al Green’s church in Memphis and a moment fuelling a lifelong ambition to play music.

It is a blessing that Carter Sampson has heeded this innate emotion to write and play songs. This is enhanced by an outlook to spread her music to faraway lands, and be prepared to take her music in person to these distant fans. Ultimately, she embodies the romanticised spirit that attracts folks to songwriters from her part of the world. Reality or myth, is irrelevant when the impact is so strong. Gigs like this are hard to beat and a very special one will have to surface to top it when the curtain is finally drawn on 2018.

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