Carlene Carter - Carter Girl

Rounder Records

This album is a spirited, sensitive masterpiece by one of the Carter Family Royalty—Carlene Carter. Her most ambitious, fully-realised work to date, the songs selected, whether self-penned or the work of her illustrious family members down through the generations, showcase the evolution of the Carter Family from the original historical 1927 recordings that featured Carlene’s grandmother Mother Maybelle through to her mother June Carter Cash and her aunts Helen and Anita Carter—who performed for many years as the Carter Sisters—to Carlene’s own career that has spanned rock, mainstream country and more traditional Appalachia strains. Produced by Don Was and featuring such guests as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill, Sam Bush, Elizabeth Cook and Lori Carter Bennett, from start to finish, it’s an album of distinctive music that remains deeply authentic, true to Carlene’s impressive family origins even, as it steps into more sophisticated and contemporary musical territory.

She opens with a new version of Little Black Train. Her spry, evocative vocals bring something new to the centuries-old gospel song, making its antique message come alive for today. The beautifully bittersweet Me And The Wildwood Rose eloquently captures the instinct to find succour in wide-eyed childhood associations. This song has more relevance knowing that the grandmother’s house she sings about is that of Mother Maybelle Carter and you feel like you’re eavesdropping on country music royalty’s impromptu family get-togethers. Yet it all seems so natural that such a famous family should sit around singing and making music and that Carlene recalls it all with such fondness. Oh, to have been a fly-on-the-wall!

In an unadorned, acoustic mix that ranges from the restless, pedal steel-embellished choruses of Poor Old Heartsick Me, the acoustic gospel soul of Lonesome Valley 2003 and an enchanting ballad remake of I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight, Carlene manages to sound simultaneously contemporary and traditional, and her clear-as-a-bell voice is showcased to its fullest. Many of the songs featured are reflections on the loss of friends and relatives and growing older and being totally okay with that process. If you are one of the many new fans country has earned this past decade or so you may not be able to truly appreciate what might seem like an old-fashioned sound, but I urge you to dip a toe in the water and be prepared to be both educated and entertained … you will not be disappointed and I guarantee that your life will be enriched by the experience.