home listen reviews
Carlene Carter

STRONGER • Carlene Carter

Carlene Carter hails from a long, illustrious line of true blue troubadours, and her survival instincts are accordingly fine-tuned. Tip your hat to the trends, stretch your wings a bit, but never stray too far from your wheelhouse. Everybody knows it ain't easy to balance the demands of art from the heart and the marketplace, but the long-haulers usually find a way and Carter certainly has the notches on her belt to belong in that company.

With that established, it's by no means a harsh knock to say that a few minor tweaks to the recipe would have made Stronger a great record instead of a very good one. When Carter and producer/multi-instrumentalist John McFee plough the fertile ground staked out by step-dad Johnny Cash on the folkabilly side ("The Bitter End," "Break My Little Heat in Two"), and the legendary Carter family on the trad country side ("To Change Your Heart," "Spider Lace," "It Takes One to Know Me"), the results are nothing short of stunning.

But when contemporary Nashville vibes seep into the mix, the spell wavers a bit. Make no mistake, McFee is a certified guitar monster by any measure and Carter kicks the bony ass of every tank-topped, fashion-spread cutie on the country charts before breakfast. Mainstream radio-ready songs such as "Real Love," "I'm So Cool," "On To You," and "Light of Your Love" stand head-and-shoulders above most of what's out there, but who wants choice burgers and fries when there's steak sizzling on the grill?

Carter's best stuff has always combined her intuitive rootsy sensibility with a hell-raisin' angel persona that amused or annoyed, but left no attentive listener indifferent. A bit longer in the tooth and wiser now, she can still sass up a storm (on "I'm So Cool" she sings: "Hangin' with the boys is where it's at / 'Cause they got the balls and I got the bat"). But the album's lingering impression derives from the title track, a tribute to her late sister, Rosie Carter. A string-laden ballad that could have fallen flat alongside the record's rootsier gems, the song succeeds on the purity and clarity of its message: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Amen. It's that ol' balancing act at its best. • Mike Thomas

listen to clips      return to covers

carlenecarterfanclub.com      yeproc.com


puremusic home