CARLENE CARTER – Carter Girl (Rounder)

CarterGirlAs the daughter of June Carter and 50s country star Carl Smith and the step-daugher of Johnny Cash, even making reference to her musical heritage feels like unnecessarily stating the obvious. However, recorded with a core band of Blake Mills and Greg Leisz  on guitar, Don Was (who also produces) on bass and Jim Keltner behind the kit, this is the first time she’s dug so deep into her mother’s family’s roots with all but one of the twelve tracks being taken from the Carter Family songbook.

While never looking to clone the folk and bluegrass Carter sound, some of these do remain fairly faithful the originals, albeit given a punchier contemporary country feel, most notably the twangy vocal honky-tonk swayer ‘I’ll Be All Smiles’, a jangly ‘Gold Watch And Chain’ and the yee haw bounce of ‘Poor Old Heartsick Me’ (a number from the Carter Sisters repertoire), the latter two both custom-built for line dancing. Teaming with Kris Kristofferson, she also resurrects ‘Black Jack David’, AP Carter’s rework of the traditional folk ballad ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’.

Decidedly removed from the Carter version, ‘Little Black Train’ opens the album with a swampy gospel groove driven by Carter’s growly vocals and some molten guitar work from Leisz while she also a  more twang country heft to her mother’s 1999 song ‘Tall Lover Man’, making sure to bring out its sly  musical reference to Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’.

Elsewhere, you’ll find a lovely waltzing ‘Give Me The Roses (While I Live)’, a lively duet with Elizabeth Cook on ‘Blackie’s Gunman’ which features Sam Bush on mandolin, and a terrific version of ‘Troublesome Waters’, this time with Willie Nelson doing the duet honours.

Family roots are equally present in Carter’s own contributions, revisiting her 1990 tribute to grandma Maybelle for a rearranged, less Dolly Partonish, version of’ Me And The Wildwood Rose’ with ‘Lonesome Valley 2003’ featuring new words to AP own appropriation of the 19th century spiritual, taking the pace right down to a full blooded piano backed gospel mood with harmonies by Vince Gill.

Given the nature of the album, it’s appropriate that it should close with something of a family reunion as, through modern technology, Carlene’s joined by the voices of Helen Carter, Anita Carter, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash for a rousing finale of ‘I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow’. Tremendous stuff.

Mike Davies