Anyhow, the current issue of No Depression caught my eye at Bosse’s, our great downtown newsstand, the other day. In the little strip above the title are these teasers: “Ry Cooder + Joe Ely + Frames + Carlene Carter + James Brown.” Four out of five ain’t bad.
I flipped it open and saw a full-length feature on Carlene Carter. Sold. She’s one of my longtime faves, an appealing blend of sweetness and sassiness, of rock and country.
You know Carlene Carter’s story. Her mother, June Carter. Her father, Carl Smith. Her grandmother, Maybelle Carter. Her stepfather, Johnny Cash. Her stepsister, Roseanne Cash. Four husbands, including Nick Lowe. Had some success in the early ’80s, then disappeared. Hooked up with Howie Epstein, who played bass with Tom Petty. Had some success in the early ’90s, then disappeared. Substance abuse. Bottomed out. Gone from the scene for almost a decade.
Still, you really ought to read Silas House’s piece in No Depression. It’s excellent, especially because it’s more about Carlene Carter now than Carlene Carter then.
The good news is that Carlene Carter is back, and in fine voice. I was a tad surprised to see her picture with the No Depression piece. She’s no longer that blonde pixie. At 51 — how is that possible? — she resembles the actress Kathleen Turner these days. Appropriate, perhaps, because Carter also is an actress these days, having played her mother on stage.
Carter’s new album — sold only at shows and online because she has no record deal — is “Stronger.” Appropriate, also. Listen to samples on her MySpace page. Carter has no other official web site, save for the Carlene Carter Fan Club site. I’m not big on fan sites, but this one is quite good.
Now the only question left is which Carlene Carter songs to share today. Hmmm. She and I go back more than 25 years, so there’s a lot to pick from. Might as well start near the beginning.
Back in 1980, when Carter was married to Nick Lowe, he produced her “Musical Shapes” album. Carlene Carter backed by Rockpile. Talk about a dream pairing.
The first tune is a terrific duet with Dave Edmunds, another of my longtime faves. The second tune is interesting because you can hear a new version on Carter’s MySpace page. Both versions stand on their own. Bear in mind one is Carter at 25 and the other is Carter at 50. One pub rock, one roots rock.
“Baby Ride Easy,” Carlene Carter duet with Dave Edmunds, from “Musical Shapes,” 1980.
“I’m So Cool,” Carlene Carter, from “Musical Shapes,” 1980.