America may have its Mother Church; the UK just utilises the real thing. A rough finger count has St.Pancras Old Church as the sixth different holy place to see a gig in recent years, with no doubt a lengthy list of many others doing likewise up and down the country. This exchange of performing space does throw an extra dimension on the live music experience. Acoustics, ambience and atmosphere are frequently called out alongside a tendency for artists to fully test the surroundings by stepping away from the mic to strip song and music down to its purist form. One of my earliest memories of a country/folk/Americana touring artist performing in a church was the Good Lovelies singing a version of 'Hallelujah' in Ross-on-Wye. To bring things up to date in a similar setting but very different town, Carter Sampson closed this return to St, Pancras Old Church with a personal moving version of the film classic 'Moon River', delivering an identical feeling to what occurred on the English/Welsh border a few years ago.
There has been more than a few column inches on these pages extolling the virtue of Carter Sampson's music following the discovery a couple of years ago. Primarily, these were around the album WILDER SIDE which proved a firm favourite in 2016, and still stands the test of time. Since this introduction, the follow up release LUCKY continued the good work and the recorded content has expanded into a couple of UK visits including a set witnessed at Maverick Festival also in 2016 and a full show savoured at the Kitchen Garden in 2018. Unfortunately dates couldn't be aligned for a Birmingham return on this latest short run of UK shows (yes UK is 3/4 accurate with gigs in England, Wales and Scotland), but Carter Sampson has enough credit in the bank to justify a reasonable road trip, and to be the focal point of a couple of half term days spent in London.
After initially touring solo, the format has expanded into a succession of trios for the last two tours. While the source of the touring companions remains Oklahoma, the enlisting of Kyle Reid and Jason Scott for the 2019 trip represents a pairing that is closest to the origin of Carter Sampson's music. Both have had a major impact on her recordings and there was a high degree of synergy to how this show projected and panned out.
One enhancement from previous Carter Sampson shows was the addition of pedal steel. This came courtesy of Reid and added a zest to the country side of the sound. There was no finer example than a version of the Shel Siverstein song 'Queen of the Silver Dollar'. A shining beacon from the LUCKY album and one from the lofty plateau of tunes shared between coming on stage around quarter past nine before departing with a touch of the movies approximately an hour and half later.
The gratitude shown towards Scott and Reid agreeing to tour with her this time was extended in the invitation to share a couple of songs each, enabling them to show that they are equally as adept in fronting the party as playing the trusty sidekicks. They in effect acted as the third and fourth voice on lead vocals during the evening as the support came from one half of the Oxford-based duo Loud Mountains. It transpired that Sean Duggan is in the motion of branching out alone as the duo slims down to a solo core now that brother Kevin is/has re-locating/ed to Nashville. So alas no more sibling harmonies though Sean is far from done on the UK circuit as exemplified by his performance and intentions in the limelight this evening.
Due to Carter being in an in-between album phase (apart from a short Trio release EP with Reid and Scott which sees four older songs re-worked alongside a new one), most of the setlist was drawn from last year's LUCKY album. Highlights included the title track, 'Tulsa', 'Ten Penny Nail', 'Hello Darlin'' and 'Rattlesnake Kate'. The last of these is fast becoming a popular Carter Sampson live number helped by its fascinating back story. The preceding track on this list referenced Kalyn Fay in its introduction, a fellow Oklahoma artist who I have got to know more about since Carter toured last year via reviewing her album GOOD COMPANY in September '18. If pushed into a corner to spotlight one precious moment from the show this could be the one.
Sadly, the slight dimming of time as seen much of the excellent WILDER SIDE album slip off the setlist to the extent that we only heard the title track during this evening's show. Renewal and progression is the fuel for any forward thinking artist, but hopefully some of the cracking songs off this album such as 'Medicine River' and 'Highway Rider' don't fade into the memory as live favourites. Next time maybe.
Despite this minor dip, there is still the utmost respect that Carter Sampson takes the risk to promote her music overseas with all the sacrifice and trepidation that must ensue. There is enormous faith in her ability as a singer-songwriter, and to deliver music in a sumptuous style that embodies the living spirit of a junction where strands of country, folk and Americana conspire to prosper. There was a good fit between the music of Carter Sampson and the spiritual upbeat surroundings of this evening's venue. St.Pancras Old Church in its form tonight may be a deviation for both host, guest and even, yours truly, however things gelled splendidly to take this Carter Sampson appreciation a few further steps down the road.
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