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Carlene Carter - Carter Girl

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 22 / 4 / 2014

Carlene Carter - Carter Girl
Label: Decca
Format: CD


First-rate covers album from Carlene Carter, which features songs spanning three generations of the Carter Family

Carlene Carter returns to her musical roots with this collection of songs spanning three generations of the Carter Family music. The majority of the songs here were written by A. P. Carter who was a member, along with Maybelle and Sara, of the original Carter Family trio. Carlene, being the daughter of June Carter Cash and well respected country star Carl Smith, has a definite claim to these songs. With a sympathetic production courtesy of Don Was and with musicians such as Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz and Blake Mills on board, it could hardly fail. Carlene has, however, so obviously put so much of herself into these songs what she has actually delivered, by delving deep into her family’s history, is her best album to date. It’s not just A. P. Carter’s age-old songs that Carlene has given a new lease of life to here. ‘Me and the Wildwood Rose’ is a song that Carlene penned for her ‘I Fell in Love’ album back in 1990 as a tribute to her grandmother Maybelle telling of Carlene’s life as a young Carter girl, and, shorn of the pop sheen that was the order of the day back when it was originally recorded, added layers of beauty are revealed. Despite exquisite harmonies from Lorrie Carter Bennett and Elizabeth Cook, Carlene’s vocals on this particular song are almost breathtaking; passion oozes from every word, and, while her vocal skills have never been in question, there’s no doubt that Carlene is singing from the heart across this album. Maybe given the source material an album of 100% bluegrass is what many would be expecting, with a little of that pop sensibility that coloured some of Carlene’s best-selling work thrown in as well. What Carlene, Don Was and all those musicians involved in this project, however, have done is not only skillfully updated those old songs so they don’t sound out of place today, but while keeping true to their country roots actually straddled a number of genres. A.P. Carter’s ‘Little Black Train’ opens the album, and immediately erases all memories of Carlene’s poppy take on country which helped make her name. The bluesy, edgier Carlene displayed here isn’t one we are overly familiar with, but the voice is still undeniably te Carter Girl, and, with Greg Leisz’s effective guitar work, it’s an excellent way to kick off the album. With Elizabeth Cook and Carlene’s husband Joe Breen on backing vocals. the family connection that began with these songs all those years ago is being continued. ‘Give Me the Roses’, another A.P. Carter song, is all Carlene vocally, and what can you say about a song that is so perfectly structured, sounds like it was sung by an angel, played brilliantly and is all you need to hear to discover why the Carter Family’s music is as relevant today as it was when first recorded which is not far off 100 years ago now. Calling in famous friends to share vocals can mean that the project is in need of some help to capture the listener’s interest. Carlene really could have taken all the vocals on ‘Carter Girl’ and it still would have been an overwhelming success; it’s been six years since her last album, ‘Stronger’, and with the current crop of outstanding female vocalists it’s all too easy to let those who led the way drop out of sight for a while, but the choice of both co-vocalists and the songs they feature on here is truly inspired. Elizabeth Cook not only adds sublime harmonies to a handful of songs, (check out ‘I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight’ and weep along with Leisz’s steel guitar as the girl’s vocals break your heart), but she duets with Carlene on ‘Blackie’s Gunman’; Willie Nelson duets on ‘Troublesome Waters’ a song written by Maybelle with her husband Ezra Carter and Dixie Hall (wife of Tom T. Hall) and which would be the highlight of this album if it were not for the amazing performance, production and, of course, vocals displayed throughout. Carlene’s and Nelson’s vocals, although they really shouldn’t, just belong together, and, with Nelson sounding like his voice is going to crack at any second, it’s an outstanding vocal performance, again coming from the heart. Vince Gill takes harmonies on ‘Lonesome Valley 2003’, which is Carlene’s adaptation of the Carter Family’s ‘Lonesome Valley’ and the other song on ‘Carter Girl’ that Carlene had a hand in writing. With Rami Jaffee’s Hammond colouring the song, Carlene delivers a soulful update of the song evoking the passing of her mother June and stepfather Johnny Cash. June’s murder ballad ‘Tall Lover Man’ is the nearest Carlene gets to the pop-infused country-rock that informed her best selling (to date) albums, but both the band and Don Was inject a swing into the song that, despite the subject matter, makes it hard to sit still to. ‘Black Jack David’ is another duet, this time with Kris Kristofferson, and, like with the Willie Nelson duet, having such a distinctive male vocal playing foil to Carlene’s sweet yet soulful vocals was an inspired move. It would appear that the wonders of technology have assembled the vocal talents of Johnny Cash and the Carter Sisters (Helen, Anita and June) with Cowboy Jack Clement’s guitar on the final song, ‘I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow’, with those of Carlene and her musicians to close the album on a rousing note. ‘Carter Girl’ is Carlene Carter’s best album to date; dipping into the past strangely appears to have given Carlene another direction to move in musically. ‘Carter Girl’ can lay claim to including the definitive versions of some of the songs featured, but even more than that it’s good to have Carlene recording again and still sounding as real as ever.

Track Listing:-
1 Little Black Train
2 Give Me the Roses
3 Me and the Wildwood Rose
4 Blackie’s Gunman (feat. Elizabet
5 I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight
6 Poor Old Heartsick Me
7 Troublesome Waters (feat. Willie
8 Lonesome Valley 2003 (feat. Vin
9 Tall Lover Man
10 Gold Watch and Chain
11 Black Jack David (feat. Kris Kristo
12 I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (fe

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Fifth electro-influenced album from country pop star Carlene Carter, which originally released in 1983, does not stand up well because of its extremely dated production

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