Lauren Morrow – People Talk
Born in Georgia, where she studied English, Lauren Morrow relocated to England and lived in Newcastle before moving to Nashville as part of a band called The Whiskey Gentry. Perhaps she ran into a very young Sam Fender.
Her debut solo album has been in the works for four years, all of which puts her life in ten songs. A favourable review in Country Music People tipped me off and drove me to the two pre-released singles. Only Nice When I’m High mentions ‘a million tiny monsters’ and ‘my Scorpio rising’ in the opening stanza while a bass growls alongside (rather than underneath), while the album’s title track has some bongos, a saxophone solo and a contemporary lyric to go with the bouncing melody: ‘Everybody’s tough behind a screen…Some people just want their voice to be heard.’
The gentle groove of opening track I’m Sorry (‘I can’t change the way I am’) reminds me of Jenny Lewis and her band Rilo Kiley, with a mix of rock guitar, string section and long outro with the chant ‘you gotta let it go!’ There’s a long instrumental section, this time reminding me of Wilco, during the rootsy Looking for Trouble, while It’s You has some delicious dominant seventh chords to match the lovelorn lyric where Lauren’s vocal swoons.
The album’s second side begins with Nobody But Me, where Lauren sounds a bit like PJ Harvey, hollering her independence and exhaling at the end from all the effort. Closing track Birthday has a coffee-house acoustic guitar backing a plain delivery that wouldn’t be out of place in the Lilith Fair scene of the 1990s.
Hustle is the sort of song Natalie Hemby would write with Miranda Lambert (‘H-U-S, T-L-E!!’) describes how she and her husband Jason painted houses and sold cannabis (it’s legal, don’t worry!) during the pandemic. Leona is electrifying, and it is everything I like about country-rock: harmonies on the chorus, a proper middle eight, an uplifting hook (‘put your faith in me’) and organic instrumentation.
Family Tree (‘you can’t change your blood’) is a triple-time tune, immaculately arranged and dripping in reverb, with a line about how Lauren’s ancestors ‘sailed off from Norway’. Lauren will be in Europe this spring, with two weeks of concerts in Scandinavia and a single London date on May 12 in Camden at the Green Note. I hope she packs it out.
Carter Sampson – Gold
Carter’s seventh album was recorded during the pandemic. She also runs a rock’n’roll camp for girls so I’ll listen to Gold as if I’m a student at the camp: what lessons can I, and her students, learn about attitude, performance and melody?
The title track which opens the album starts with pedal steel guitar and Carter singing with a similar timbre to Norah Jones that she has ‘got scars’ and has been ‘running so fast I outran myself’. The chorus is addressed to her ‘mama’ and is hugely melodic, while the hook is ‘you made me out of gold’.
Home also begins well: ‘I hate the cold, it gets in my bones’. Washes of pedal steel, banjo mixed very low down in the arrangement and a clunk of a bass drum underscore a nervous but declarative narration, plainly sung, where Carter wants ‘one more shot’ at fame. The third verse is a series of advice as much to herself as to the listener.
Drunk Text is a triple-time tune with another sublime arrangement (pedal steel, an organ solo, cymbal rolls as punctuation marks) and a hugely vivid narration including the line ‘I’ve never loved anybody so hard’. It also references the theme to Monsters Inc when she says ‘I wouldn’t have nothing if I didn’t have you’. Yippie Yi Yo is a fiddle-led waltz that seeks to pick up a sad cowgirl for whom ‘it’s hard being a woman today’.
Can’t Stop Me Now has a wide-open production to match the narrator’s ‘restless’ state, while Black Blizzard is about the dust-bowl refugees who left Oklahoma, where Carter grew up. Again, this time thanks to an electric guitar, the opening bars call the listener to attention and prepare them for storms, dead cows, jackrabbits, Jesus and prairie fields.
Fingers to the Bone, meanwhile, employs a slide guitar to help deliver a message of how ‘money don’t grow on trees’. The girls at Carter’s camp will thus learn about hard work and, on the acoustic vignette Today Is Mine, will be reminded that they should put themselves first and follow Carter’s example of going off-grid for peace of mind. It is almost funny that she follows that track with Pray and Scream, where the slide guitar returns and Carter vividly sings of ‘crouching on cold porcelain’ to escape the hurricane (‘now it’s raining sideways’).
There’s Always Next Year ends the album on a note of optimism, as Carter sings ‘hallelujah’ as the clock resets on a relationship and wanderlust governs the narrator’s soul. ‘Don’t beat yourself up for letting yourself down’ is full of empathy, which is such an important part of songwriting.
Carter is in the UK in June with, like Lauren, a London date at the Camden Green Note on the 29th and a weekend at Maverick Festival, a jamboree of roots music headlined by Tom Russell. Under 10s go free, so perhaps a few young girls will find a new hero in Carter Sampson.