THE SAM CARTER TRIO Live at the West End Centre

The Sam Carter Trio

It didn’t start well. We heard the crash somewhere backstage and when Sam came onstage to find that his DI wasn’t working he confessed that he’d dropped his guitar. A few minutes fiddling got it going, fortunately for all concerned. Sam made a big joke of it and started again, with the audience firmly on his side before he’d even sung a note.

He began, as always, with ‘Yellow Sign’ from his first album. It’s a deceptively simple song that tells a complex story in just a few verses and tunes the listener in to Sam’s songwriting style; at once involved and yet simultaneously an observer. Now he introduced the trio: bassist Matt Ridley and drummer Evan Jenkins for two more old songs, ‘Dreams Are Made Of Money’ and ‘Taxi’. They were quite restrained at this point, cool and jazzy.

Sam went solo again to introduce the first of the songs from his new album, How The City Sings, beginning with the title track and ‘Our Kind Of Harmony’ before changing tack with a song from False Lights – ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’. Back came the band for a rockabilly version of ‘One Last Clue’ and as the end of the first set approached Sam announced that they were going to play some “Judas music”. Which meant that Evan picked up the big drumsticks and Sam his electric guitar (a 1960’s Gibson ES125 for guitar nerds) and gave ‘Oh Dear, Rue The Day’ an experience it can rarely have had.

Sam’s sets are always varied and can leave the audience wrong-footed as he does something unexpected. Tonight was going to be rock’n’roll night as the second set opened with ‘Dark Days’ and ‘The One’. Then, quite unexpectedly, he switched to a solo song from Sweet Liberties which may be called ‘One More River’ – Sam wasn’t specific. It relates to a several-times-great aunt who married an escaped slave in the early 19th century, which must have been quite scandalous even in Leicester. Sam constructed the song in the traditional style of a shape-note spiritual and it was quite wonderful, perhaps the highlight of the set.

Sam Carter Electric

The band returned, Judas took over again and brought my one reservation. ‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’ is a great song but it should be poignant and wistful. Sam insists on rocking it up and I really wish he wouldn’t. They wrapped up with ‘Taunting The Dog’ and ‘Drop The Bomb’ in rocking style and encored with ‘Waves & Tremors’

Variety is the key to Sam’s performances. He can pick out delicate acoustic lines or a screaming electric solo; sing the most tender of lyrics or roister through ‘Jack Hall’ and he does it all in one evening. The tour continues – don’t miss it.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: http://samcartermusic.co.uk/

Venue website: https://hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk

‘Dreams Are Made Of Money’ – official video:

SAM CARTER – How The City Sings (Captain Records CAP005)

How The City SingsMaking good on his Best Newcomer gong in the 2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards , Carter went on to release his critically acclaimed No Testatment as well as collaborate with Jim Moray as False Lights on the Salvor album. The moment shows no sign of slacking with this, his third solo outing, produced by Dom Monks and Neil Cowley and recorded live to tap with musicians that, in addition to Cowley on piano, included his trio’s drummer Evan Jenkins, regular bassist Matt Ridley and award winning fiddler and viola player Sam Sweeney.

Opening with ‘From the South Bank to Soho’, an acoustic farewell love letter to both a romantic partner and London, Carter says the album is often unconsciously permeated by the city’s influences, the songs drawing on images and impressions, as on the piano-backed title track, but also more explicitly detailed as with ‘Haringey Lullaby’, a lament written in the wake of the Baby P case.

If those are all gentle melodies, then contrast can be found on the lurching Arabia meets carnival snake-charmer lope of ‘Dark Days’ with its marxophone and electric guitar, the gathering musical stridency of ‘Drop The Bomb’, its rock out guitar solo mirrored in the equally aggressive and dynamic sounds of ‘Taunting The Dog’, a number that underscores those Richard Thompson comparisons. Less angry in tone, the playful, organ-backed train rhythm scurry ‘One Last Clue’ is also a more uptempo affair, one which might even prompt loose thoughts of Chas ‘n’ Dave, or maybe Chris T-T.

It’s often the case that one style overshadows the other, but Carter has achieved a solid balance here on material that complements rather than contrasts, moving between the distorted ringing guitar and anthemic choral sound of ‘The Grieved Soul’ (a touch of Blake, perhaps), the bittersweet hushed ‘King For A Day’, the jazzy keyboards and acoustic guitars of ‘We Never Made It To The Lakes’ and the undiluted folksiness in which ‘Our Kind of Harmony’ swims without ever jarring.

This is the sound of a man supremely confident in his ability to craft and shape both words and music, never afraid to explore unknown territories, but equally happy to relax in familiar settings knowing it’s through choice not complacency. A sure thing for a Folk Awards album of the year nomination next time around, it’ll take some really stiff competition to challenge this.

Mike Davies

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The making of How The City Sings:

Sam Carter – new album

Sam Carter
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

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 Laterwith 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.

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How The City Sings promotional video: