CARTER SAMPSON – Gold (Horton)

GoldJoined by frequent collaborator, Kyle Reid who contributes pedal steel, guitar and synths among other instruments, Oklahoma-songbird Sampson again taps into her heartland country roots for an album that balances piercing balladeering poignancy with punchier rootsy rock. Pedal steel sounds the opening notes of the title track, ‘Gold’, a roots of my raising number addressed to her mother thanking her for making her the woman she is (“I won’t be bought I won’t be sold/I’ll be alright mama cause you made me out of gold”). Riding a bluesier groove with a tribal pulsing drum beat, ‘Home’ continues on a theme of self-identity and self-assertiveness tinged with a sense of regret at the price paid  (“I’m not sure where my heart is/But I’m starting to find my way home…I gave up a lot to live like this/Don’t wanna know how much I’ve missed/For 90 minutes in a hot spot light/Audition with the devil on a Monday night”) but not yet ready to give up on the free spirit dream (“Don’t have a boss don’t take no shit/One of these days I’m gonna write a hit/I’ll settle down, I’ll stay at home/I guess until then I’ll just roam”).

The slow waltzing, steel-soaked honky tonk ‘Drunk Text’  is a straightahead love song (“I even let you play my guitar/I’ve never loved anybody so hard/Now I wouldn’t have nothing if I didn’t have you”), Reid’s use of electronics also to adding texture to ‘Black Blizzard’, a song that draws on Oklahoma’s hard scrabble dust bowl history with its savage storms (“You can see it coming over the prairie/Feels electric in your skin then it gets scary/Use your best kitchen towel/To cover your mouth…I bail dust like a sailor bails water/The cows all died before they went to slaughter/What the sun left/The Jackrabbits stole in the night”).

A title like ‘Yippie Yi Yo’ positively demands a fiddle, to which end Lane Hawkins duly obliges  for a cowboy (or rather cowgirl) twangsome waltzer about how it’s hard being a woman and getting back in the saddle when men give you a  hard time (“What’d he do this time /Did he break your heart or did he get the job after you/You know should be paid twice his pay/Because twice as smart as him”).

Fuelled by the enforced hiatus of lockdown, the jogging rhythm ‘Can’t Stop Me Now’ is fired  up by the determination to pick up on the interrupted path and push it further (“I ain’t been this restless since I was seventeen…Feels like I’m stuck in the same scene/Like playing in the same damn bar. Three nights a week/I’ve been there I don’t wanna go back/Gonna go someplace new my bags are always packed…You can’t stop me now/I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do”).

One of two to feature Johnny Carlton on upright bass, that driven work ethic is also at the heart of the lessons learnt narrative ‘Fingers To The Bone’ (“Daddy was a hardworking man…I can still hear him saying to me/Money don’t grow on trees/You gotta get down on your hands and your knees/And work your fingers to the bone”), that comes with a neat twist as  inheriting the farm, an abundant fruit crop demonstrates money really does grow on trees!

A simple twin acoustic guitars number, ‘Today Is Mine’ is less about self-assertion and more about taking time for yourself (“I’m gonna turn off my phone and cut the internet line…I’m gonna do what I want and be my own company”).

Reid laying down some fierce electric guitar, ‘Pray And Scream’ returns to the subject of  dust storms (“It sucked the sockets from the walls/Now it’s tearing up the roof/Sounds like freight train is plowing through this room” with the added bonus of forest fires (“There’s smoke up in the sky/And all in my lungs/It’s living in my hair now/I can taste it on my tongue”)  in which it seems an almost personal assault by nature (“Why does this thing/Gotta come down on me”).

Gold ends though, upright bass back in the frame with Reid on piano, with the hope and optimism of the circling notes of the winter-set ‘There’s Always Next Year’ as she sings “We didn’t do great/We did the best that we could/We didn’t win when we thought we would/We played with heart and fought with no fear/Hallelujah there’s always next year”, a final reminder that in country music currency Sampson is indeed the gold standard.

Mike Davies

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