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

Rachel Harrington and THE KNOCK OUTS


Imagine Loretta Lynn playing Otis Redding songs in a garage in Seattle – in 1963. That gets you somewhere near the new territory being scouted out by country soul sensation Rachel Harrington as she heads for the hills and honkytonks with her newest adventure.

Over the course of the past three striking albums, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Rachel Harrington has proven an ability to conjure songs and stories that are real and resonant and timeless – whether she’s singing about yesterday’s heartache or tomorrow’s dreams. “Ancient sounding country noir” (Q – 4 Stars) with “songs that conjure the ghosts of old America” (Mojo – 4 Stars).

So what happens when a true original like Harrington gets a full band behind her? And what if that band is dedicated to excavating the very soul of American roots music, to mining the old school sounds and sentiments from Etta to Loretta? And let’s just say that band is comprised of some of the finest female musicians in the Northwest? That band would be called Rachel Harrington and the Knock Outs.

Asked to perform some songs at Seattle Theater Group’s annual Patsy Cline tribute concert, Harrington found herself talking backstage with a host of fellow girl singers and musicians. It didn’t take long for their shared love of honkytonk, classic country, early rock and the Bakersfield sound to become obvious. As the story goes, the Knock Outs were born backstage and christened with a few shots of whisky.

“It was a meant-to-be kind of moment. We were all women who all knew that Don Rich and Loretta Lynn and Ray Charles all started out here in Washington State. All I had to do was make us some new songs to sing.” Harrington then set to work on writing fresh material for the fledgling group.

The new album, simply titled Rachel Harrington & The Knock Outs, was recorded at Avast! Studios in Seattle (Soundgarden, Fleet Foxes, Jesse Sykes) with Harrington’s long-time producer, Evan Brubaker, and features Alisa Milner on fiddle, Rebecca Young on bass, Moe Provencher on guitar, and Aimee Tubbs on drums. Special guests include Mark Erelli, steel player Tommy Hannum (Steve Earle) and guitarist Tim Carroll (Elizabeth Cook). Harrington and company circle the wagons on true-blue Americana from the wall-of-sound 60‘s soul rave-up of ‘He’s My Man’, to the women’s lib honkytonk of ‘Wedding Ring Vacation’, to the cry-in-your-beer gem ‘I’d Like To Take This Chance’.

A 2011 winner in Merlefest’s esteemed songwriting contest (previous winners include Gillian Welch and Tift Merritt), Rachel says her past few albums came largely of her study of the Old West and turn-of-the-century American musics, circa 1900-1930. “And the new record may sound a little different, but I’m still writing essentially the same stuff. I’m still lifting my skirts and letting my influences show. I’m still channeling the old writers and singers and storytellers I love.” She winks.“It’s just that I moved forward in time about 40 years.”

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