Bookended by brilliance, Carter’s second LP sags in its middle.
Jeanette Leech 2012
The winner of the BBC Folk Award for best newcomer in 2010 has, record-wise, been relatively quiet since 2009’s Keepsakes. Sam Carter says, in this three-year period, he’s been mainlining American spiritual and gospel music. The No Testament is his attempt to partner these devotional styles with his modern secular concerns.
This hymnal lore is striking on two occasions – the album’s bookends. Intro: Antioch is a powerful short piece recorded with the Neasden Sacred Harp Singers; if it had been 10 times as long, and a few shades darker, it would squarely fit with the apocalyptic folk school spearheaded by Current 93.
Similarly, final track The No Testament is another strong collaborative work. A stirring choir behind Carter hum and clap as our singer delivers an a cappella treatise on the necessity of living in the moment.
It’s a shame, then, that the main filling of this album never approaches the quality or originality of these two outposts. Yes, there are shining moments: the Nic Jones cover, Ruins by the Shore, is a touching interpretation, and the psychedelic blues experiment Waves & Tremors adds colour and texture to the album.
Throughout, Carter’s guitar playing is solid, occasionally superb, and he assembles a great supporting cast (most noticeably Sam Sweeney’s fiddle on Garden Hymn). Yet none of this mitigates the album’s one very serious flaw: the lyrics.
The words are where Carter explores those Modern Secular Concerns. And how. Over-specific lines like “chuck your to-do lists on the floor” (from No Other Side) and “I’m coughing up child support” (from The One) already feel dated – and not in a charming, time-capsule kind of way.
The divorce observation, Separate Ways, is especially irritating. The relentless say-what-you-see lyrics of this song turn what should have been a reflection on the sadness of a break-up into a ham-fisted cliché parade. Newly single folk fans may wish to give this one a wide berth.
A frustrating album, then. If it were only possible to turn down the vocals, The No Testament would be a work of greater spiritual, and indeed secular, interest.