Folkie, rocker, singer-songwriter and False Light: Sam Carter has a lot of strings to his bow. After a false start while a lead in his recently dropped acoustic guitar (is it the same one recently left on a train? Oh dear) is reattached, Carter kicks off with Yellow Sign – a smart introduction, as it showcases his considerable skills in both storytelling (concise, evocative) and guitar playing (just ridiculously dextrous). Dreams Are Made of Money is more direct, catchy, angry and equally smart. Then it’s on to Taxi – a whimsical, jazzy swing piece, inspired by a chatty cabbie.
And if the first three songs show off a talent for variety, Carter – together with bass player Matt Ridley and drummer Evan Jenkins – soon reveals even more. His new album, How The City Sings, is an exploration of his now-native London. Entirely self-penned, it features gentle gems like its warm title track and Our Kind of Harmony, a charmer written for a pair of married pals. One Last Clue is another upbeat album highlight: inspired by “flirting over a crossword”, it is given pep by Jenkins’ jazzy drumming and Ridley’s somewhat saucy bass.
There is time for a couple of traditional tracks. Carter deconstructs False Lights’ complex arrangement of The Wife of Usher’s Well to reveal a Nic Jones-esque guitar line (when will acoustic traditional music catch on?), while he picks up his gorgeous electric guitar for an arse-kicking pre-interval Oh Dear Rue The Day.
It readies the (“unnervingly attentive”) audience for a noisier second half, kicked off by Dark Days – an immediate and less-than-delighted response to the re-election of the Tories last year. Carter clearly relishes the opportunity to give it some welly, furnishing the song with a brilliant, OK Computer-y solo. Counting the Cost turns into quite the soulful racket, while Taunting the Dog turns up the rock even further.
There’s still plenty of variation, though. The masterful The One is a brilliant post-divorce pen-portrait, given emotional heft by Ridley’s bowed bass. We Never Made It To The Lakes is witty and weary (“the most middle-class break-up song ever”), and Jack Hall is another visit to trad territory – a grim tale made oddly hilarious by its upbeat telling.
But it’s the powerful end to the set that makes the biggest impression. Drop the Bomb is all brawny chords and fantastic soloing – proving Carter is a master plugged in as well as acoustically. And an encore of Waves & Tremors adds a swampy bluesy sound to the evening’s palette of musical styles.
Perhaps what’s most impressive is that he nails all of them. Put simply: all killer, no filler.