Carlene Carter: Carter Girl

Carter Girl, plus family and friends, delivers a rousing tribute to personal and family history.

Carlene Carter

Carter Girl

Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2014-04-08

Carlene Carter's place in the history of American music was assured long before the conception or recording of her new CD, Carter Girl, but its creation makes for a solid insight into her world. As daughter of June Carter Cash and Carl Smith, and granddaughter of Maybelle Carter, her view of the machinations of the music industry is informed by family and history, and the weight of both of these factors has influenced her career of some 35-plus years. During that time, Carter has issued nine studio albums and over 20 singles, leading up to this new record.

The new album serves as a tribute to her musical forebears, but also as a statement of self. Her sound, even when paying tribute to Carters previous, is very much her own. The songs themselves are gleaned from both her own songbook ("Me and the Wildwood Rose"), and that of her family; the original Carter Family (the versions of the traditional songs "Black Jack David" and "Gold Watch and Chain"), her mother ("Tall Lover Man"), and aunt Helen ("Poor Old Heartsick Me"). An updated "Lonesome Valley" (here titled "Lonesome Valley 2003") acts as a tribute to both Carlene's mother, and Johnny Cash, and Carlene's half-sister Rosie Nix Adams, all of whom passed in that year.

Carter's oeuvre reflects her own rock influences as obviously as it does country, with "Little Black Train" taking a deep breath of atmospheric electric guitar and bass, complemented by flashing Rhodes and sonorous backing vocals. The chug of the train is echoed in the effective harp lines. "Me and the Wildwood Rose" is a tribute to her family, but also acts as a description of the journey the music has taken, complete with subtle musical motif as a neat reminder. The driving, rambling treatment of A.P.'s "Blackie's Gunman" brings out the best in the album's musicians, which include Jim Keltner, Greg Leisz, Sam Bush, and Don Was on bass.

Carter Girl also has contemplative, almost sad moments, such as "I'll Be All Smiles Tonight", with its late-night barroom setting, and the quietly devastating "Troublesome Waters", on which Carter is serenaded by the voice of experience and loss that is Willie Nelson. Carlene's take on "Lonesome Valley" is personal and profound, extrapolating family loss to lessons we can all learn. The chorus sees Carter's vocals united with those of Vince Gill.

Carter is not afraid of updating older songs, in fact, it is her pride and joy. Joy is given to songs like "Tall Lover Man", lifting her mother's story from the pages of history and giving it a rousing, upbeat tone. The beautifully balanced take on "Gold Watch and Chain" is delivered with knowledge, awareness and passion, as is the delightful "Black Jack David", which features Kris Kristofferson.

An updated version of the rousing, soulful and true "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow" rounds up the album, incorporating vocals from earlier takes from Helen, June, Johnny and Anita Carter. Carlene has explained that she feels charged with the responsibility of maintaining and extending her family's music, and without falsehood or artifice of any kind, she does exactly that on Carter Girl.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.