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Carter SampsonCarter Sampson
Album: Wilder Side
Label: Continental Song City
Tracks: 10

That feeling you get when you listen to an artist you've never heard before, and from the opening note to the closing silence you're completely enraptured by the music that weaves it's magic and holds you spellbound? That's "Wilder Side" by the so-called "Queen Of Oklahoma" Carter Sampson! There have been a number of albums over the last few years that have quite literally made me sit up and physically exclaim "WOW!". Dennis Ellsworth's "Dusk Dreams", Black Feathers "Soaked To The Bone" and Blitzen Trapper's "All Across This Land" immediately spring to mind. I just added this album to that list - and that's pretty great company to these ears!

Music can have restorative properties, and, dammit, this album has them in pharmaceutical abundance. "Wilder Side" is, in simplified terms, a slice of heart-on-sleeve soulful americana, where the innate skill of Sampson as a master songwriter has borne rich pickings throughout. The songs immediately feel like old familiar friends. There's a warm glow that surrounds the album as a whole, no doubt helped by the beautifully understated production where the songs are all given space to breathe and grow. The playing is of course of the highest quality, but you are able to hear all that's going on with a disarming clarity. Voice and instruments don't vie against each other, here they are in perfect accord and that is where the secret of "Wilder Side" lies.

Opening title track "Wilder Side" is pre-eminent in setting the tone for the album as whole. It's one of those 'top down, wind in your hair' vibes. It's sunny music. It's designed to make you smile. And it does! The subtle blend of acoustic guitar, keys and pedal steel, topped off with Carter's tender-but don't-mess-with-me voice, and glorious harmonies is a nailed on winner. And natural follow on song (but here 7 songs later) "Wild Bird" continues in the same vein, slightly slower paced, and a little more melancholy in tone. Here the protagonist is far away, and the call of home is loud (still loud) and it's where the heart (of the song) is.

In fact, home is very much the incumbent theme throughout, in all it's myriad forms and settings. Carter travels for the love of making music, but it's clear to see where she's from and how proud she is of her heritage. It's a rich lyrical vein that she mines skilfully and to maximum effect. "I've got open roads, and a wide open sky and I've got dreams that won't pass me by", Sampson astutely observes on the beautifully whimsical "Everything You Need". "I hear the wings of a buzzard in my ear" ("Highway Rider") sets the imagination rolling towards what is in essence the archetypal American dream (especially if you're a non-American!), where there is a long straight road ahead of you, sunglasses on, and Jimmy Webb in your ear.

It's commonly true that on most album releases since time immemorial, there are songs that will suffer the fast forward button (or the needle lift!). But "Wilder Side" doesn't fall into that category. So whether it's the pining dobro in tandem with heavenly harmonies on "Run Away" or just good old fashioned gently rocking electric guitar on girl-fest "Holy Mother", this is one album that will play from start to finish. The only button you'll be pressing with this one is 'play', once the final strains of "See The Devil Run" have faded out.

The 'americana' genre as a whole is multi-faceted and sometimes bewilderingly all-encompassing. But sometimes, just sometimes, there is an album that you can hold up as a shining example of what a form of music can offer not just to a genre but to music in general. And "Wilder Side" is one such clarion call. Quality songwriting, quality playing and quality production are never going to go out of fashion. It's just getting all three right at the same time that's the trick. Carter Sampson has achieved that with "Wilder Side". Pure delight from start to finish. Now where's that 'play' button again…..

Ken Brown