Since being named Best Newcomer at the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Sam Carter has been stirring audiences from Camden to Canada, via an attention grabbing appearance on Later… with Jools Holland and a dreamsreallydocometrue performance in a specially assembled band to back Richard Thompson at Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
Since the release of his last solo album The No Testament Sam has toured the world, equally happy to perform on his own, with a band or to collaborate with other artists – including a trip to Pakistan to work with revered South Asian classical musicians Sajid Hussain and Haroon Samuel; an appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show playing songs cowritten with Zimbabwean musician and former refugee Lucky Moyo; and closer to home as part of the allstar tribute tour The Lady: A Homage To Sandy Denny. In 2014 Sam teamed with Jim Moray to form False Lights, a band with the stated aim of updating the template of folk rock and making a joyful racket. Their 2016 BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominated album Salvor, released the following year, was praised from all corners proving that people really were ready for traditional English songs played in a style that owed as much to Radiohead as it did to Fairport Convention.
Sam’s third solo album How The City Sings captures this fervently admired singer, songwriter and guitarist at his most passionate and moving. Recorded live to tape in the studio, the album was produced by Dom Monks (who worked with Ethan Johns on records by Laura Marling, Paolo Nutini and The Staves) and keyboardist Neil Cowley (Neil Cowley Trio, best known for his contributions to Adele’s 19 and 21 albums). In addition to Neil, whose emotive piano lines were often improvised, the band includes fiddler Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead, Leveret and BBC Folk Musician of the Year) drummer Evan Jenkins (Neil Cowley Trio) and Sam’s longstanding bassist Matt Ridley.
How The City Sings features twelve songs that are at times affectingly intimate and at others brimming with righteous rage. As the album formed, Sam began to notice these songs were shot through with images and aspects of London. After ten years living in the capital it had become not only the backdrop but a central player in the parts of his life these lyrics detailed. Unconsciously How The City Sings became a way of processing where he was, in every sense.
Opening track ‘From The South Bank To Soho’ , underpinned by Sam Sweeney’s exquisitely measured viola, was written during the end of a significant romantic relationship and depicts a love triangle between two people and the town.
“The stakes are high when you live here,” explains Sam. “It requires you to make big decisions about whether you stay or go.”
In stark contrast ‘Haringey Lullaby’ is a lament on behalf of the borough where Sam resides, written in the wake of the Baby P case; trying to find words for so many unspoken feelings.
But this is an album of dark and light. ‘Our Kind Of Harmony’, with its chiming guitar giving a nod to the great Nic Jones, uses extended musical metaphors to celebrate the relationship of two of Sam’s friends who married and moved “south of the river”. The title track ‘How The City Sings’ was imagined as a vantage point over the entire record. While the rest of the album focuses on specific moments of love and loss, confrontation and crisis, this song comes from the bigger perspective of seeing this place that can seem so hard and cruel as also a gathering of hope and unity.
“What’s important to me about the record is that my experiences and what I sing about have become inseparable. I’m writing about my own life but also trying to give voice to the lives of others.”
How the City Sings is the most personal album of Sam Carter’s career, and when songs are this heartfelt and true they connect with us all.
Artist’s website: www.samcartermusic.co.uk
How The City Sings promotional video: