Gold americana from the Queen of Oklahoma.
The self-styled Queen of Oklahoma Carter Sampson planned to have a month or so off at the end of 2019 which became three years thanks to the pandemic. In 2018 she released ‘Lucky’ which some reviewers said was her best album to date, and now in 2023 she finally releases another album, ‘Gold’. While some things remain the same, this time she recorded the tracks with only fellow Oklahoman and band member Kyle Reid and not the full band approach of her previous album. ‘Gold’ is a touch more melancholic as well, reflecting the effects of the pandemic and the time Carter Sampson had to reflect, and while it may have been recorded under COVID restrictions, Carter Sampson and Kyle Reid have managed to capture the energy at the heart of the music, while avoiding the sterility that can sometimes characterise recordings with many overdubs.
The title track ‘Gold’ is a thank you to Carter Sampson’s mother who has worried about her all her life, with a dose of gentle country supported by Reid’s pedal steel guitar. There is a touch of banjo to go with the pedal steel guitar on ‘Home’ as Carter Sampson looks at the life costs of being a travelling musician. Even when she writes a love song like ‘Drunk Text’ music is never far away as she offers her guitar as a sign of her love. Cascading synths and electric guitar characterise ‘Black Blizzard’ which looks back to the time of the dust bowl in Oklahoma’s history. The song title ‘Yippie Ti Yo’ may suggest the singing cowboys of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s but the challenges of being a woman and a working musician in Oklahoma are what’s really on Carter Sampson’s mind. There is a more acoustic flavour to ‘Can’t Stop Me Now’ which has a hint of the Oklahoma shuffle. We are in acoustic blues territory with ‘Fingers To The Bone’ about how the hard work of a father makes his heir’s future secure with fruit trees providing a recurring commercial crop. We are in a relaxed mood with blue skies and acoustic guitars on ‘Today Is Mine’ though this pastoral mood is shattered by ‘Pray And Scream’ which describes being trapped by three natural disasters, a wildfire, a hurricane, and a tornado. The album ends with ‘There’s Always Next Year’ and you can see Carter Sampson as part of that long line of songwriters influenced by that Oklahoman great, Woody Guthrie.
While Carter Sampson’s music mixes country, rock & roll, and folk, and ‘Gold’ features synth cascades and riffs along with rocking guitar, you can’t take the country out of an Oklahoman musician no matter how hard you try. The pandemic and enforced break could easily have disrupted the artistic momentum of her previous album ‘Lucky’, but ‘Gold’ shows Carter Sampson continuing to develop as an artist with an album that again, could be her best. Carter Sampson may reign as Queen in Oklahoma, but there should be many more potential subjects among listeners who enjoy good songs addressing modern-day issues, played with passion and commitment while still retaining a country heart.