Carlene Carter: Stronger

Photo: Robert Matheu

Carter’s always been tough and edgy, but now she seems self-confident. “I’m so cool,” she sings with a growl some 25-plus years after she first wrote the tune, and you believe her.

Carlene Carter


Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2008-03-04
UK Release Date: 2008-03-14

The album title says it best. Carlene Carter’s musicianship is stronger than ever. She’s written a bunch of potent new songs, co-wrote another, plucked a couple of self-penned oldies out of her bag, and compellingly performs them all with a passionate bravado. Carter’s always been tough and edgy, but now she seems self-confident. “I’m so cool,” she sings with a growl some 25-plus years after she first wrote the tune, and you believe her.

Maybe there are good psychological reasons for this. In one year she suffered four grievous losses, which are directly and indirectly alluded to on the record. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand a person goes through some sort of spiritual liberation when her mate, mother, stepfather, and little sister die. And imagine how this is intensely compounded by the fact that her mother and stepfather were the musical legends June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, whose gifts and story are well known throughout the world. That’s a leaden load for anyone to bear.

But this is not a concept record or even a heavy one. Although Carter offers hard won life lessons -- “Hold for your life/until it comes judgment day/true love doesn’t die/it just walks away,” she sings with conviction -- this is largely an upbeat record. That which has not killed her has made her stronger. Carter celebrates the fact that life goes on. Indeed, her strength is often astounding: “Why Be Blue”, she asks on a song by that name, and she knows one has to capture joy when possible. Carter understands that a person may not be able to change the hard facts of life, but a person may control one’s attitude. This can make all the difference.

In a way, this philosophy mirrors the story of the disc itself. Carter recorded a version of it and sold it to fans over the Internet and at her shows. She no longer had a record label or contract, but felt determined to put the music out there anyway. The record garnered a good buzz. Next thing the disc was being remixed with more instrumentation, better production values, and being released on the Yep Roc label. The disc may not sell as well as her big major label recordings of the '90s, but the music will be enjoyed by a new, young audience, as well as old fans.

Musically, the production gives the songs a big feel, with layers of strings pushing the music forward. Carter’s voice sometimes gets a bit muddled in the mix, but that’s on purpose to give the general sound more of a country flavor than a singer-songwriter feel. When her vocals reemerge it’s to lay a hook or capture attention with a clever line. Carter’s vocal range is lower than it once was, which adds depth to her pronouncements. She can be both self-deprecating and proud at the same time. When she sings about love, which is often, she sounds like an authority.

The former author of “Little Love Letters” is stronger now and could write a book with what she knows. Good thing for us that she’s made a record instead because she’s a first-rate performer and songwriter.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.