Rare is the show at which you know every song, but we enjoyed one last weekend. We went to see Carlene Carter, long one of our faves.
She played the Thrasher Opera House in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
The Thrasher is a lovingly restored yet plain little place in a resort town of 1,100 people. It dates to 1910 and first was a vaudeville house, then was a movie theater into the 1940s. As you see, it seats 198 — 11 rows of nine seats each on either side of the room. Intimate, to say the least.
It was a nice fit for a show that was all but unplugged — just Carter on guitar and Mike Emerson on a Steinway piano. She played 18 songs drawn from 1980’s “Musical Shapes” to her early ’90s pop-country hits to the more serious stuff on 2008’s “Stronger.”
These days, Carter is more earth mama than the blonde pixie you may remember from earlier in her career. She’s had a hard road — she’s dealt with substance abuse and the loss of several loved ones — but she remains sassy and delightful.
We’ve written about “Stronger” before, so let’s listen instead to a couple of older tunes she played at the Thrasher. They’re from “Musical Shapes,” Carter’s breakthrough album, which was produced by Nick Lowe, her husband at the time.
“Cry” and “Ring Of Fire,” Carlene Carter, from “Musical Shapes,” 1980. (The album link is to a 2-on-1 CD also featuring “Two Sides To Every Woman,” Carter’s second album, from 1979.)
“Cry,” which is written by Carter, features Rockpile as the backing band. That’s Dave Edmunds on guitar and backing vocals, Lowe on the bass, Billy Bremner on guitar and Terry Williams on drums. They team up on all but two songs on the album.
“Ring of Fire” is one of those songs without Rockpile. Instead, it has a backing band led by Doobie Brothers guitarist John McFee, who works with Carter to this day. I’m not sure I care for the guitars on this cover, but Carter’s voice makes you forget about them.
It’s one of the songs Carter sings today to demonstrate how strongly she values her family traditions. Her mother June Carter co-wrote it.
The others include “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” a song she wrote about her late sister Rosey; “My Dixie Darlin’,” written by A.P. Carter and long a staple of Carter Family shows; and “It Takes One To Know Me,” a song Carlene wrote in the ’70s as a birthday gift for her stepdad, Johnny Cash, yet one that long went unreleased.
Video, too: Here’s Carter on stage just three weeks before our show, at a coffeehouse in a church in Littleton, Massachusetts. The audio doesn’t do her justice, but you get the idea. It’s produced by the local paper.