One of the pleasures of watching new artists develop is cheering when they reach new milestones. Thom Carter has always seemed content to do his humble thing, releasing a series of CD-Rs under a series of aliases, handpainting the covers, and taking orders from his own website. When I bought the last Needleleaf release, it was one out of ten, and I was shocked that I had been able to procure a copy. But when Soul was introduced, it was one of fifteen – a 50% increase. A week later, Carter announced a second printing of 20. Readers may be thinking, “that’s not very impressive”. Yet it means that an artist worth notice is finally being noticed, excellent news in an industry in which the measure of achievement is constantly shifting.
The painting is not the draw here – my cover is red and green watercolor over a suspension and steering tutorial – but it’s heartening to imagine a glacial shift back to the material object. Perhaps the sub-genre of solo piano music tends to attract the traditional crowd; unlike much of the music reviewed here, Soul can be understood and appreciated across the board.
Carter’s compositional and performance skills are evident from the very first moments of “Movement I”. On the swifter of the ten tracks, his style is to play individual notes in rapid succession with one hand while playing sustained anchoring chords with the other. On the slower tracks, the spacing of notes is more balanced, and Carter is wise to alternate tempos in the sequencing. The mood ranges from contemplative to upbeat without crossing too far in either direction.
Soul sparkles like a new sled on freshly-fallen snow, and listening is like riding down a virgin trail. On Soul, even more than on Open Window, Carter echoes the tender, hopeful and happy tones of Nils Frahm’s Wintermusik. The first, sixth and tenth movements are particularly effective, and at 5-6 minutes apiece, they are also the longest tracks here. A move in this direction might yield unexpectedly pleasing results.
Carter is a hard working and talented performer, and we’d love to see him picked up by a major label. Yet somehow we suspect that’s not the point; he seems at peace in his own cozy space of the musical world. All seems well with his soul, and for the duration of the recording, all is well with ours as well. (Richard Allen)