The cowgirl look is not something she bought at Sears. Not the red boots, the big black hat, the distressed fringe jacket. I have no idea where she got the horseshoe she’s holding. Unless she’s friends with the village smithy. And yet the eyeglasses can throw you off. They’re hip. And they could only have been made in the here and now. But it’s all a bit like Carter Sampson herself. That and her new disc, Lucky. There are classic elements of the singer-songwriter movement of the ‘70s, references to the old west, but the girl has the sharp, detached eye of someone who walks among us. It’s a dichotomy. But it works.
“I have a pretty varied background,” Sampson says by way of explanation. “I grew up in Oklahoma, fell in love with music, although I didn’t make the cut for the 7th grade choir. My dad played a little guitar and when I borrowed it I just fell in love. I went to art school in Boston and busked in the subways there for a couple of years. It really sharpened my performing skills. Ultimately I felt my roots pulling me. I’m an Okie. So I went back home and started making records. Like Lucky.”
She also mentions influences as diverse as Patty Griffin and Jason Isbell. And she’s especially enamored of Ani DiFranco, who has built a successful career on her own terms. Still, she’s digested all these things thoroughly. And made a personal gem of an Alt/Country album. In other words she’s disparate, not desperate.
Take that title song. It features a great groove in the rockabilly school, some dobro and electric guitar and Sampson’s voice, a combination of grown up woman and wide-eyed girl, talking about how she’s a bird with a “gang of angels” looking out for her. It’s authentic and rootsy, but also a nice change from all the moaning self-pity clogging the singer-songwriter genre. Then there’s “Ten Penny Nail,” a kiss-off to a lover and the idea that if she nails her door shut, she’ll never have to deal with this nasty little fool again. With talk of drinking and authentic ire, Sampson manages to reference some country music touchstones here without relying on any cliches. Neat trick that. One of the auteur’s favorite tunes on the disc is a first person tale about real life pioneer woman, “Rattlesnake Kate.” A gal you’d want to be nice to, Kate, a woman with a nursing degree, shot 140 rattlesnakes one day in 1854, because they were threatening her and her son. She became a local legend in Colorado for her sharp eye and deadly trigger finger. Although Carter doesn’t come off as a the type of woman who would blast you, she definitely identifies with Kate’s toughness and self-reliance. The song itself, an ominous minor key plaint, has our girl singing in the voice of the snake killer. It’s a keeper, a musical short story, with a banjo and dobro urging it along. It’s not only a memorable track, it also shows how Sampson can write and sing in character. She disappears into Rattlesnake Kate like she was Meryl Streep or somebody.
So what’s next for this exciting new talent? After she does a little tending to the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp For Girls (a non-profit organization she help found) compliments Jason Scott, her record’s co-producer and her superb backing band, she sighs, thinks, talks.
“I’ve got a record release party coming up. Then it will be time to do some dates in the U.S. I’ve broken a lot of countries in Europe, but it’s my home country I want to break. Otherwise, I’ll just keep writing, playing and touring. That’s the only way to make it all happen.
I imagine it wont be easy in today’s current musical climate. But, she really does identify with that gun-toting badass, Rattlesnake Kate. And if there’s anyone who can accomplish what she sets out to, it would seem to be Carter Sampson. She’s not simply Lucky, she’s fearless. My money’s on her.