How have I never heard of Carter Sampson? That was my reaction upon coming across the Oklahoma singer-songwriter. From an early age she knew she was born to make music and her passion still runs deep today. She averages 220 shows annually, as she loves to travel and play music, although she has a deep fondness for playing in her home state. Sampson is also the founder and director of Oklahoma City’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls, which partners with nonprofit organizations that help educate empower women through music education. And earlier this year she released her fourth studio album Wilder Side, produced by Travis Linville. If you’re a fan of that old school, 70s country sound, you’ll really enjoy Wilder Side.
The album title track establishes the tone of the entire album, a down to earth, classic country feel. The song is about Sampson exploring her wild, gypsy side. The acoustic guitar and some soft pedal steel guitar give the song a relaxing feel and make the listener feel right at home. Sampson further explores the life of living on the highway on “Highway Rider.” She sings about how when you’re living life on six-wheels you never know where home is next. It’s your traditional rambling, highway song about never being able to really settle down. I should also point out that fellow Oklahoma singer-songwriter John Moreland joins Sampson on this song. It’s a real treat to hear two talented songwriters come together on this song. A plucky banjo plays in “Run Away.” Once again Sampson sticks to the life on the road theme, as she sings about falling in love with someone only to tell him she can’t stay. This is more bluegrass-based song, making it one of the lighter tracks on the album. The instrumentation is really strong on this song.
“Holy Mother” is about Sampson asking the holy mother to pray for her and her girls as they go out on the town for the night. She knows they’re going to drink and have some fun, but she asks that none of them go home with a “guitar man or anyone else in the band” because she knows it will lead to heartbreak and trouble. Sampson explores moving on from her past and town on “Everything You Need.” Throughout the song she’s speaking to an ex she has left behind for a new life, hoping that he’s found what he needs in his life now. It’s this type of song that really makes you appreciate Sampson’s mature approach to songwriting. There’s no bitterness from the woman, as she only hopes her ex finds his happiness like she has found it.
One of my favorites on Wilder Side is “Medicine River.” The folky song is an ode to the Medicine River and Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. What stood out in particular on this song for me are Sampson’s vocals, which are quite strong. What helps her vocals stand out is the light and stringy instrumentation, which lets her stand out and guide the song. The soft and tender “Take Me Home With You” is about a lonely woman and man meeting at a bar. The woman is just coming off a break up she can’t shake off her mind and just wants someone to take her home so she can lay next to them and feel safe. It’s by no means a rebound song, but a coping mechanism to deal with the sobering feeling of being alone. This much is evident by the achenes in Sampson’s voice.
“Wild Bird” is a song about Sampson being out on the road and hearing about a major storm heading towards her hometown in Oklahoma. She explains as much in an interview with American Songwriter, where she talks about being out on the road and hearing about a large storm hitting her town for the first time while she wasn’t there. She explains how fearful she felt for her family and friends because of Oklahoma and it’s reputation for the amount of tornadoes they experience. It’s a song that also explores how powerless a person can feel when there’s nothing they can control about a situation. It’s another superbly written song on this album.
Sampson explores leaving home and hitting the highway again on “Tomorrow’s Light.” It goes further than this as she also sings about listening to the radio and the voice of Hank Williams. As she returns home later in life, the only she says that has changed are the voices on it, which she doesn’t recognize (she’s better off I say). It’s one of those you can always go home songs that almost anyone can relate to and understand. Wilder Side comes to an end with “See The Devil Run.” It’s a gospel-inspired song about the sights and sounds Sampson takes in as she sits in a church pew. Listening to the song closely you feel like you’re sitting right next to her because the song describes the scene so well. I can picture it right in my head and it once again speaks to the testament of the great songwriting from Sampson. It’s the right type of feel good song to close the album.
Wilder Side features some of the best songwriting I’ve heard this year. The instrumentation is no-frills, straightforward and just good old country music. The only thing I could say I didn’t like about this album is there’s maybe one too many songs about the rambling, highway life. These songs are well-written without a doubt, but the theme can get a little tiring after hearing it on multiple songs. It’s a minor complaint, as the album as a whole is really an example that all country and Americana songwriters should take notice of and strive to achieve. Carter Sampson is an artist more people need to hear and talk about, as it’s crazy it took this long for me to hear such a talent. As I’ve said many times, the amount of talent out there in the independent scene is staggering and Sampson is another example of the many artists who deserve to be heard. Wilder Side is an album any country and Americana fan can appreciate.