Oklahoma’s Carter Sampson is no stranger to these shores. Her trademark red boots have graced many a UK music venue over the past few years. This was the opening night of her UK tour promoting her brand new album ‘Lucky,’ and the healthy Glad Café crowd took to their seats in anticipation of the latest show from a very welcome return visitor.
Support came from Tulsa native Jesse Aycock and Californian transplant Lauren Barth. The duo are both solo artists in their own right but have a history of performing together – something Barth admits they haven’t always had the chance to do that often lately. That perhaps shows a little in their opening two or three songs. Whilst their voices are complementary, their guitar playing competes for the same sound space in a slightly mismatched, jarring way. Fatigue from a journey by plane, train and auto-mobile from The Netherlands to Glasgow (via Düsseldorf and Edinburgh) may play a part in that but the duo eventually hit their stride. They take turns playing songs that they’ve written but of the two it’s Lauren’s music that matches the feel of the evening most comfortably. Jesse’s music sounds a touch thin without a band backing and it’s Lauren’s songs that feel more in keeping with the intimacy of the room in their stripped down live incarnations. Stand out track ‘Getting High’ recalls memories of Bonnie Raitt covering ‘Too Long At The Fair’ and the raw emotion of ‘Flood to the Drought’ is the perfect vehicle for her strong voice. A well worked version of the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan song ‘Walls of Time’ benefits from Lauren’s singing and Jesse’s picking in equal measure and rounds up an opening set that does a touch more justice to Barth’s music on her first visit to Scotland.
Carter Sampson opens her set with ‘Lucky,’ the title track of her new album. She’ll eventually be joined by both Lauren and Jesse, who provide vocal and musical backing throughout the rest of the show, but she kicks things off solo with an instantly familiar sound. The self-proclaimed Queen of Oklahoma’s voice is firmly located in her home state – warm and smooth like good sipping bourbon, with just a little fiery burn that comes from her south-central American twang. Those are roots of which Carter is rightly proud as she goes on to discuss such Oklahoma greats as JJ Cale. ‘Wilder Side,’ taken from the 2016 album of the same name, is next but it’s clear after three or four songs that tonight isn’t about playing old favourites. This is a chance for Carter to show off the new songs from an album that features a series of firsts. It’s the first time she’s recorded other people’s music, with covers of songs by Shel Silverstein and fellow Oklahoman Zac Copeland. It’s also the first time that she’s written some unashamedly straight up love songs. This is still the unmistakable Carter Sampson sound but takes us into territory not often travelled on previous albums.
Always an engaging presence on stage, we’re offered anecdotal insights into some of the influences of the new album. On ‘Peach’ it’s memories of her grandmother. ‘Ten Penny Nail’ recounts a story about the great Guy Clark, taking to a room with a hammer, some nails and a bottle of whisky following a disagreement with his wife and their friend (the late, great Townes Van Zandt). Both the tale and the song are delivered with sass and swagger. The significant other hinted at on the more straight forward love songs is never revealed but it’s clear that these tracks have deep roots. In lesser company such conventional love songs could risk becoming a little sappy but in Carter Sampson’s capable hands they retain her sense of independence and self assurance. ‘Rattlesnake Kate’ has been a live favourite for some time and finally makes it to record on Carter’s latest. Its inclusion is a welcome nod to her back catalogue but it never feels like an excuse to shoe-horn in a more familiar song amongst the new material. ‘Queen of the Silver Dollar’ has become something of an Americana standard and it’s clear that Carter holds Shel Silverstein’s music and poetry in high regard. Barth’s sympathetic backing vocals and Aycock’s dobro slide add a welcome richness to the live sound and despite the new album still being a couple of weeks from an official UK/EU release, the crowd eagerly applauded each song as if it was an old favourite.
It has been an evening full of engaging chat and excellent music and as clearly exhausted trio bring proceedings to a close, they anoint the appreciative audience honorary “Okies” in reference to the dust bowl diaspora who left her home state in search of work during the great depression.
Of course every Queen needs an anthem and to that end we’re treated to an encore featuring ‘Queen of Oklahoma.’ A crowd pleaser that closes a very well received evening of music, it’s typical of the accomplished live performance the crowd have come to expect. On tonight’s evidence it’s clear that ‘Lucky’s’ ten new tracks will become crowd favourites in years to come.
Photography by Michael Ozmond