AUK Features Editor Clint West writes: Welcome to our latest new feature. At AUK we like to champion less well-known artists and that is exactly what this series is intended to do. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be asking our writers to put forward and argue the case for an artist who they consider deserves to be much more widely recognised. The artists in question will not be total unknowns, but rather those that we feel, due to the quality of their music, are deserving of a wider audience. Look out for some top tips that you’ll be sure to want to check out.
In November last year AUK’s Tim Martin wrote an 8/10 review of Melissa Carper’s new album ‘Ramblin’ Soul’ in which he takes a line from her song ‘Hanging on to You’ which states that “they don’t make them like they used to” and concludes his review by stating that “thankfully Melissa Carper does”. As a complete sucker for old-time country music, this really should have made me sit up and take notice, but foolishly I let it pass me by.
Wind forward to June of this year and I am going to see the wonderful Willi Carlisle at Manchester’s intimate Castle Hotel venue. The advertising says, “Willi Carlisle with Melissa Carper”. The name seemed familiar and so I did a bit of pre-gig listening – and wow, just wow! What I was hearing was a singer with a voice from a bygone age, utilising a plethora of old-time folk, country, jazz and blues styles to create, yes, a retro sound, but one with a modern freshness and songs planted firmly in the present. Her performance in Manchester that evening was sensational, and I was lucky enough to see her again at the Black Deer Festival a few days later, thus cementing a love for her music that I felt I really should have discovered earlier. Checking out her previous 2020 album ‘Daddy’s Country Gold’ I found a record steeped in the heritage of traditional folk and country music. It was raw, at times it was bare, but my god was it good. There are some great songs and some great tongue-in-cheek humour too. Sadly, there aren’t too many people making music like this nowadays, especially with such a clear love and passion for it.
Melissa Carper plays upright bass which she learned as a child playing in her family’s country band in Nebraska but it’s her voice that is her stand out instrument. Carper grew to love country music listening to parents’ record collection. Being gifted a collection of Jimmie Rodgers records made her want to write and sing. She studied music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She then set out busking and playing and recording in bands with her partner and fiddle player Rebecca Patek. ‘Daddy’s Country Gold’ came out in 2020 to much critical acclaim, but then the pandemic hit in 2020 and the gigs dried up. The pair moved to a friend’s farm near Austin and began working on the songs that would eventually form a large part of last year’s ‘Ramblin’ Soul’ record. It has a jazzier, more blues influenced feel than its predecessor and demonstrates a real command over a very wide range of American musical styles.
If you love old time roots music, particularly folk and country music, then if you haven’t already discovered her, you really need to hear Melissa Carper.