Carter Sampson: Is it Luck or Something Else?
“I don’t know how I ended up in this place / must be on the right path / at the right time / in the right space” –Carter Sampson, “Anything Else to Do”
If you’ve been paying attention to the niche of Americana music that comes out of Tulsa, or Oklahoma in general, for any decent amount of time, you’ve heard Carter Sampson’s name. And rightly so, because she’s a full-throttle touring-machine, racking up 200 shows a year around the world.
That’s a far cry from the eighth grader who was turned down for the school choir all those years ago, but that moment made her pick up a guitar so no one would be able to tell her she ‘wasn’t good enough to do something’ again. That’s the kind of bravery she says she’s always had. And now, more sure of herself, the outward manifestation of that bravery and gratitude has become a chance to give back and inspire a whole new generation of girls who, like her, love music.
Enter the Rock & Roll Camp for Girls – OKC. Carter is the founder and director of the camp, which focuses on ‘empowering girls through music education.’ Girls ages 8 – 17 attend the week-long day camp, and while there, have the chance to learn an instrument, as well as participate in workshops based on self-esteem building and self-expression, like self-defense, screen printing, body image, women in music, and songwriting. The girls perform in a showcase with their band at the end of the week, in one of the great venues around Oklahoma City. The camp is entirely run by volunteers, and offers scholarships and tuition assistance for girls in need. There are plenty of ways to help out, and you can find that information at: http://www.rcgokc.org/.
Lucky, Sampson’s fifth album, released in October of 2018, was produced by Jason Scott and engineered by the renowned Wes Sharon of 115 Recording. Joining her on the album are Jared Tyler (dobro, vocals), James Purdy (drums), John Calvin Abney (keys, electric guitar, harmonica), Kyle Reid (keys, guitar, pedal steel), Luke Mullenix (bass), Jack Waters (drums, vocals), and backing vocalists Erik Oftedahl, Nellie Clay and Ken Pomeroy, among others. It’s like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the Oklahoma music scene.
If there’s one sort of theme that runs through Lucky, it’s one of acknowledgement and awareness, which in turn leads to thankfulness. From “Hello Darlin’,” where she’s ‘grateful to be met with a kiss’ when she gets home, to “Peaches” or “Lucky,” where she’s seemingly overwhelmed with thankfulness for her parents and her childhood and the wonderful memories she has. She’s writing from her heart, and her heart is, at its core, grateful.
Take an upbeat shuffle of sorts, and add Carter’s stories of childhood memories and an adult longing to go back to those simpler times for just a moment, and “Peaches” is an ode to family and home and love; but it’s the kind that takes us there with gentle nostalgia, not wanting us to separate our past from our present, but to think of them as two necessary parts of a whole. She gives it to us so eloquently and simply, “there’s a piece of my heart that still haunts those halls, and I can’t tear the two apart.” It’s real, relatable and authentically heartfelt. Something about this song elicits the same kind of emotion from my seven year old, and he’s not even able to fully understand what she’s getting at. That’s music as the universal language. It defies literal translation to speak to people of all ages and walks of life.
“Tulsa,” a Kalyn Fay tune, follows suit with that sense of gratitude, but more from the perspective of just being happy and present in the moment. It’s got this funky beat behind it that lends itself to really listening to the lyrics and taking them all in. She says, “And I know someday I will leave here / as for now / it’s Tulsa all the same.” To me, it’s kind of a nod to the fact that, yeah, we all outgrow places and relationships, but even though that’s always a possibility, we shouldn’t enjoy them any less while we experience them. Don’t let the end result take away from the getting there. Don’t rush. Not everything is a means to an end.
Another of Carter’s stand-out strengths is sheer honesty in songwriting. I never get the feeling that I’m being pandered to, or just being told what I want to hear. One of the most honest songs on the album is “Wild Ride,” where she admits to what are possibly her worst qualities: being unruly and mean and needy like a flower, while saying she’s also sweet and tenacious with ‘a heart of gold’ and won’t give up. It’s the epitome of what it really means to be human and vulnerable; acknowledging our weaknesses and offering them up as part of something flawed but also beautiful and worth experiencing. If that isn’t something we can all identify with, then I don’t know what is.
Lucky is, track after track, just great music. The words, Carter’s voice, the melodies and harmonies, the musicians who play on the album, it all combines to create something really charming and exceptional. Maybe it’s the rawness and vulnerability and honesty of it. Maybe it’s because Carter Sampson is putting out into the world what she’s been lucky enough to receive. Maybe it’s something that the world really needs to hear at this exact moment.
“I grew up tall and I grew up strong / I grew up just to prove ‘em all wrong” – Carter Sampson, “Peaches”
Whatever the answer is here, there might be some luck involved in the whole thing, but I tend to think that there’s an awful lot of hard work, tenacity and spirit to go with it.
Order Lucky via Horton Records and support Independent Artists: hortonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/carter-sampson-lucky
Carter Sampson is currently touring Colorado, through mid-August.
Find a tour date near you at: cartersampson.net