Times have changed… Four years after Sam Carter’s London-themed How The City Sings comes his new album, Home Waters. It tells a different kind of story: floods rise, storms both natural and political threaten to rip society’s fabric apart, disaster survivors try to cope. But there are also bittersweet memories, slow waves and domestic sanctuaries.
In short, Home Waters may be one of the emblematic 2020 albums, regardless of when the songs were actually written. It’s a song cycle for this moment, intentional or not.
As for the music, it’s a showcase for what a nimble and tasteful composer-guitarist can do with a little help from a string section and some extra ambience here and there. The tasty guitar picking combining with the expressive vocals is every bit as satisfying as in Bruce Cockburn’s best moments.
But let me emphasise: Carter’s talent as a folk songwriter is considerable as he has no debt to pay to anyone of his worthy predecessors in the UK and America. He has a lovely touch for throwing in a surprising chord or an unexpected twist in the melody line to bring that extra charge to a tune and his musical voice is all his own
The only artist that fleetingly came to my mind in a couple of spots is XTC’s Andy Partridge who, in his acoustic moments, integrated English folk music idioms to his singular art pop vision. Fly The Flag, one of my three favorite songs on Home Waters, comes with an exquisite melody and a pulsating string pattern that remind me of XTC’s late chamber pop jewel, Apple Venus vol. 1.
All the songs on Home Waters are heartfelt and expertly written, 100 % free of false emotion, stock full of brilliant lyrics and observations. For me, the ones that have stuck with me most come from the albums darker side: the way Carter dissects the Brexit mentality in a few choice phrases, with music to match, in Fly The Flag is masterful, and he avoids the considerable risks one takes when writing a song called and about Grenfell Road. Instead of focusing on the acute horror, he gives voice to the survivors whose place in this world has been smashed in so many ways.
And then there’s Hold Back The Storm, a deceptively simple song of big fear and equally big hope and determination. It’s the kind of song that says just enough in its word and music; there’s no need for anything else. And I’m loving it.