She’s the self styled Queen of Oklahoma but Carter Sampson extended her sovereignty into European territories with the 2016 release of Wilder Side, her first album to see distribution on this side of the water. Its success saw her playing at the Maverick, Glastonbury and Kilkenny Roots festivals as part of the eight tours of Europe she has undertaken in the past two years and on the eve of another visit we get a brand new album to whet our appetite.
Recorded with fellow Oklahoma musicians including Kyle Reid, John Calvin Abney and Jared Tyler (erstwhile travelling companion of Malcolm Holcombe) Lucky is a magnificent collection of upbeat country numbers and yearning love songs all entwined with pedal steel and Dobro. The album kicks off with the title song which is just about as perfect an example of sinewy country rock as one can imagine. The band chug excellently with Jared Tyler on Dobro snaking in and out as Sampson effortlessly sings of her good fortune in life. The mesh of guitars, piano, organ and Dobro here is terrific, reminding one of Rainer’s recordings with Giant Sand, a great start to the album. Luck pops up again on the following Anything To do, another excellent band effort as they offer up a finely sun dappled romp with piano to the fore while Peaches, with Carter reminiscing on childhood days, glides along on some succulent pedal steel playing. On Ten Penny Nail, a song inspired by a tale about Guy Clark, they delve into a southern swampy sound with Sampson sounding like a feisty Bobbie Gentry and there’s more southern touches on the existential All I Got with Sampson singing, ” All I’ve got it don’t mean nothing if I don’t know who I am.” Meanwhile Wild Ride finds Sampson in a sassy mood as she sings of a turbulent relationship with the lyrics essentially recalling Bette Davis in All About Eve when she says, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Throughout the album Carter’s lyrics are impressive, able to cast a thought, an image, memory or emotion with style but she allows space for a couple of covers from some fellow Oklahoma songwriters. Zac Copeland’s Hello Darling is a fine slow country waltz with creamy pedal steel while Kayln Fay’s Tulsa with its fatback bass and spidery acoustic guitar celebrates the titular city with some aplomb. The album closes with another cover, a song which has been a regular fixture of her live shows, Shel Silverstein’s Queen of the Silver Dollar. Sampson gives the song a reverential reading, wringing out the pathos of the original while the band are just superb, sounding as if this were the Flying Burrito Brothers playing. Prior to this Sampson gives us the tale of Rattlesnake Kate (another live favourite) about a woman who lived on the edge in frontier times at one point killing off a horde of rattlesnakes and turning heir hides into a dress. Here Sampson approaches Townes Van Zandt territory and again the band turn in an excellent performance just nailing this excellent album. . One of the best of the year so far.
Carter Sampson kicks off her UK tour this Saturday in Glasgow at the Glad Cafe, all other dates are here.