A Thursday night in the capital and there’s an embarrassment of riches on offer for the fan of Americana music. Slightly to the north of us, Ana Egge is playing at the Green Note in Camden, Caroline Spence is just up the road in Islington and Tyler Ramsey, former lead guitar player for Band of Horses, is out west at the Bush Hall. Perhaps this accounts for the somewhat scant number of people in attendance at St Pancras Old Church for Carter Sampson. It’s a venue she’s familiar with having played here last spring, and as with her last outing, Carter Sampson perform tonight as a trio, albeit this time out she’s accompanied by Jason Scott (producer of last year’s ‘Lucky’ album) and Kyle Reid. And what a terrific venue the church is, its intimate surrounds, atmosphere and perfect acoustics making it a highlight for any music lover.
Support comes in the form of Sean Dugan, one half of Loud Mountains, his brother having relocated to Nashville. A duo previously renowned for their vocal harmonies, Sean Duggan still shows himself capable of branching out on his own, and has an abundance of memorable songs that make him someone to look out for.
Carter Sampson arrives on what passes for a stage at St Pancras Old Church in uniform issue black wide-brimmed hat and with rose-tinted glasses – which almost match the dusty red, roseate coloured lighting through which the band are filtered – although the standard-issue red boots are actually a silver pair instead.
‘Wild Ride’ is the opener, and while in reality it’s more of a canter, it’s still a lovely introduction which demonstrates the ease with which the three-piece play off each other. According to the band, there’s actually a fourth member in situ in the form of an electronic drummer, which sounds like it’s something of a bonus when out on tour – crammed into a single vehicle and traversing the highways and byways of Northern Europe. ‘Lucky’ – with its lyrics about the “gang of angels” looking out for Carter – feels appropriate given this evening’s setting, her feelings of good fortune at being able to sing in such a beautiful space tonight matched by an audience who feel similarly blessed at being able to hear music of such quality. The last in a perfect trio of songs comes in the form of the Zac Copeland-penned ‘Hello Darling’, which has some gorgeous plangent pedal steel courtesy of Kyle Reid.
It’s on the likes of numbers like ‘Peaches’, a tune which celebrates the happy childhood times she spent in the arms of her grandmother, that you feel Sampson really inhabits her song lyrics, but she proves herself as equally an adept interpreter of standards as well, no better exemplified than on the Shel Silverstein barroom ballad, ‘The Queen of the Silver Dollar’, the dust bowl ruler of her native state in ‘Queen of Oklahoma’ exchanged this time for the smoky honky-tonk monarch of the song’s protagonist.
Although three may be company for this outfit, the unhappy love triangle of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and wife Susanna – and how Guy became so fed up that he physically nailed himself into a room to get away from them – provides the back story to the song ‘Ten Penny Nail’, the degree of commitment involved in such an extreme act providing Carter Sampson with the inspiration to write a kiss-off song to a former lover.
Kyle Reid and Jason Scott get the chance to demonstrate their own songwriting chops during a mid-section, the first song coming from Reid’s own band, the Low Swinging Chariots. Then they alternate for the smooth-sounding, ‘When I’m Good and Ready’, Scott proving himself to be an accomplished mandolin player. There’s also great fun to be had in Kyle Reid’s rendition of ‘Minor Iko’ a song that tells of the collision between two tribes of Mardi Gras Indians at Mardi Gras, a nice fusion of New Orleans and Americana.
‘Wilder Side’ brings Carter Sampson back centre stage, the title track from the album that launched her on the European Americana scene back in 2016 and a song which also features on her new five-track ‘Trio’ EP, released especially for this European tour. It’s such a toe-tapping classic that it’s not hard to see why they’ve chosen to record it a second time. There’s also time for the jazzy sounding Buddy Johnson penned torch song, ‘Since I Fell For You’, a song which Sampson told me before the start of her show that her Dad taught her when she was a teenager and had always loved.
No Carter Sampson performance would be complete nowadays without ‘Rattlesnake Kate’ – a long term favourite of her live set – the song preceded by the story about how its eponymous heroine from northern Colorado, Katherine McHale Slaughterback, fought off 140 rattlesnakes for three hours on a horseback ride with her, no doubt terrified, three year old adopted son looking on, before turning her vanquished foes into a dress, some matching shoes and jewellery. The single-mindedness, self-reliance and independence of such a heroine are clearly relatable qualities – and allied to her high-quality songwriting and singing abilities – make Carter Sampson a similar force to be reckoned with.
The evening finishes in fine style with an a capella cover of the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song, ‘Moon River’, an ode to wanderlust. Let’s hope Carter Sampson doesn’t wander too far ahead of a return visit to these shores before too long.