The winner of the 2010 BBC Folk Award for ‘Best Newcomer’ has been busy making a name for himself ever since and his second album, ‘The No Testament’, dropped last summer. Word of mouth has spread and an appearance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ this autumn has helped his profile soar.
“That was a great night,” says Sam. Delivering stunning performances of ‘Jack Hall’ and the wonderful ‘Dreams Are Made of Money’, his songs made people sit up and take notice. “I had my friend Sam Sweeney on the violin with me and he played a blinder. Madness, Grizzly Bear and Diana Krall were all on too… it was a real honour.”
It was the latter song that made this writer listen harder. Contemporary lyrics married to a traditional melody, the hard-hitting ‘Dreams Are Made of Money’ is a winner. “Traditional and contemporary music co-exist in my listening – so it’s natural for me to blend them together in my own music,” says the singer. “I’ve always been interested in the idea of writing about contemporary events using the narrative form you find in traditional ballads. Lots of the writing on this new record is a direct result of experimenting with that idea.”
The record is a cracker and as eclectic as they come. Delicate finger pickers sit alongside stacked harmony singing and psychedelic blues tunes. “I love artists like Neil Young and Low,” says Carter. “A more contemporary strand has always been in my writing. Ultimately, when you’re writing and creating your own music, you’re following your own nose – and it’s your own criteria that you measuring yourself against,” he says. “I was listening to lots of recordings of shapenote singing, Tim Eriksen, Tom Waits, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Bach during the making of the record.”
Shapenote singing? We weren’t sure either. A quick Google will tell you all about a community tradition that goes back to the 1800s in America – but it’s an art that has to be heard to be believed. Carter’s album opens with ‘Antioch’ – a shapenote hymn that the songwriter twists into the aforementioned ‘Dreams Are Made of Money’ as the record ebbs and flows.
There is also a cover of folk legend Nic Jones’ ‘Ruins By The Shore’ that almost steals the show: “He told me he wrote it after watching ‘Planet Of The Apes’: ‘a potted history of mankind in five verses’ is how he describes it I think! The song has this great sense of looking at humanity under the aspect of eternity and I love it.”
We can tell. Carter inhabits the tune and breathes life into it – surely the very point of singing folk songs. “I’ve toured with Seth Lakeman and the Sandy Denny tribute tour recently and loved playing those songs,” he says. “This latest album has taken a while, as I’ve also done three stints with the British Council’s ‘Shifting Sands’ project in Kuwait and Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s more important to me that I put out good records – rather than quick ones…”
And so say all of us. ‘The No Testament’ will appear on most ‘best of’ lists at the end of this year – and not just in the folk sections. Sam Carter is an original talent and has arrived at the door of the mainstream with something to say.
Do yourself a favour and let him in. You won’t regret it…