Tag Archives: Carlene Carter

Top 25? Our top 3 records of 2014

There’s never been a year-end music roundup at AM, Then FM because that’s really not how we roll here.

That said, I read Ken Shane’s late-to-the-party roundup of his favorite albums of 2014 over at Popdose, and thought we’d tap into that spirit.

Ken has 25 records on his list, but ours won’t be that long. I bought plenty of records during 2014. Only three of them were new releases.

The first new record I bought in 2014: “Give The People What They Want,” by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

When Daptone Records provided a sneak peek of the new record from Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, I took one look at the cover and my record nerd kicked in. Hey, I thought, that design is inspired by an old Chi-Lites record.

chilitesgivemore powerlpsharonjonesdapkings givepeoplewhattheywantlp

Whatever. The record came out at the end of the second week of January, and I picked it up as soon as I could. Two months later, we got to hear most of it at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, a scorcher of a soul revue on a late winter night.

Cool song off the record: “Long Time, Wrong Time,” on which the Dap-Kings walk their vintage soul sound over near the swamp for Miss Jones to chomp on.

The second new record I bought in 2014: “Carter Girl,” by Carlene Carter.

I belong to almost no fan clubs, but I have been a member of Carlene Carter’s fan club for several years. When she started her gradual return to recording and performing in the mid-2000s, it was well below the radar, and the fan club was pretty much the only way to keep tabs on it.

Tipped by the fan club to a limited number of autographed copies of her new record, I managed to get one. Full disclosure, though: I’m not a big autograph guy. I just thought it would be a fun thing to have.

Carlene Carter autographed CD

Well, it sure was fun opening the package when it arrived in April. Carlene Carter has a lovely signature, doesn’t she?

I’ve loved Carlene Carter since her time with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the early ’80s, through her pop-country stardom in the early ’90s and now that she’s re-emerged after some struggles with addiction. On this record, Carter taps into her Carter Family influences and stands right beside them as one of America’s finest country singers.

Cool song off the record: “Lonesome Valley 2003,” an updated version of an A.P. Carter song. She’s always been one of the great duet singers. “Baby Ride Easy” with Dave Edmunds is sublime. Vince Gill is her partner on this one.

The third new record I bought in 2014: “The Lost Tapes,” by Vic Pitts and the Cheaters.

Just in time for my birthday, I was tipped to this record by DJ Prestige over at Flea Market Funk. It hit me right in my wheelhouse: Vintage soul and R&B, and vintage soul and R&B from Wisconsin.

Full disclosure again: I’m not big into limited editions, either. But I managed to order from Secret Stash Records in Minneapolis when the red vinyl copies were still available. I just thought it would be a fun thing to have.

vic pitts record on turntable

Well, it sure was fun seeing that red vinyl light up the turntable in July.

vic pitts cheaters lost tapes lp

Vic Pitts and the Cheaters were among Milwaukee’s hottest soul/R&B bands in the late ’60s and early ’70s. This record gathers a never-released bunch of scorchers, covers, ballads and instrumentals that were recorded in 1969 and 1970 at Ter-Mar Studios in Chicago, by then one of the last remaining pieces of what once was Chess Records.

Cool song off the record: “The Trip,” the one that’s playing in the picture.

Please visit our companion blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time. (And, yes, I know I am long overdue in posting there.)

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Filed under January 2015, Sounds

A time for honkin’ and healing

It was the last line in today’s news ticker on Uni Watch, a blog run by my friend Paul from Brooklyn and otherwise devoted to “the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.”

“RIP, Mr. Country,” was all it said. There were almost 200 comments about sports uniforms, but no one mentioned Mr. Country.

But I noticed it. Thanks, Paul.

It was pretty much the same way at work. The news about Mr. Country was on the AP wire early this morning, but the kids who run the entertainment portion of our web site didn’t deem it worthy of posting.

I noticed that, too.

“Mr. Country” was Carl Smith. “The Country Gentleman” was 82 when he died Saturday at his ranch in Franklin, Tennessee.

Peter Cooper, the fine music writer at The Tennessean in Nashville, has a wonderful appreciation of Smith’s life, complete with photos.

Carl Smith was one of country music’s biggest stars during the 1950s, but was just 51 when he retired in 1978 to work on his ranch. His first wife was June Carter. Their daughter is Carlene Carter.

And that is how I came to know Mr. Country.

Carlene Carter has long been one of my favorites. To see and hear her play live last year, and to hear her talk about her family from the stage of that tiny Wisconsin theater, was delightful.

She didn’t sing this one that night, but she could well have.

“Loose Talk,” Carlene Carter with Carl Smith, from “Little Acts of Treason,” Carlene Carter, 1995. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

She’d convinced her dad to come out of retirement and sing with her on this tune. He had a No. 1 hit with it for seven weeks in 1955, the year Carlene was born. It was the last of his five No. 1 hits, but he had six more Top 10 hits by the end of the decade.

“Thanks for letting me sing with you, Daddy,” she said on the liner notes. “When it comes to honkin’, you invented it.”

Carlene Carter has been through much since that 1995 record. She’s recovered from drug addiction. In an eight-month stretch of 2003, she lost her longtime companion Howie Epstein, her mother, her stepfather Johnny Cash and her younger half-sister Rosey Carter. She spoke of all that last year when she played this lovely, elegant tribute to Rosey.

“Stronger,” Carlene Carter, from “Stronger,” 2008.

“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/I’ll hold on a little longer”

Carter explains in her Yep Roc Records bio:

“It’s the story about how I felt after Rosey died. It actually came because of the combination of all of those losses that year. I knew I had a song in me about it, but I couldn’t quite get there. It was too painful. I was in such grief over everything. That song really helped me to heal a whole lot. … The chorus being about survival is because I could never figure out why I was still here, as hard as I ran.”

Here’s hoping it helps her heal again.

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Filed under January 2010, Sounds

Live at the Thrasher

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.

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

Worth the wait

Those of us who love Carlene Carter have been waiting patiently for her.

We’ve been waiting for her to emerge from more than a decade out of the spotlight, a time during which she lost several loved ones and battled substance abuse.

Our patience has been rewarded.

In 2006, Carter put her toe back in the water, recording “Stronger,” an album of new material. Essentially a demo, it was produced by her brother, John Carter Cash. At the time, Carter had no record deal, so she sold it only online and at her occasional shows. I heard “Stronger” last year, and it was delightful.

Last year, Carter signed with Yep Roc Records, which last week released “Stronger.”

However, it’s not the “Stronger” I heard last year. They’re the same tunes, with a slightly different tracking order, but with new arrangements and far more polished. The new “Stronger” is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. It’s produced by John McFee (formerly of the Doobie Brothers), who also played most of the instruments.

Brad DeMeulenaere, who edits an excellent Web site on Carter’s behalf, explains the new version of “Stronger” this way: “Carlene has said she wanted it to have more punch.” It certainly does.

If you are at all familiar with the arc of Carter’s career, you know we’ve seen Carter as a sassy rocker with then-husband Nick Lowe in the late ’70s and early ’80s and Carter as a video-friendly blonde pixie doing country-tinged pop in the ’90s.

Now, with “Stronger,” we have Carter as earthy mom, a spirited voice that nonetheless has been around the block a few times.

“Stronger” has much in common with Carter’s early-’90s work, a blend of traditional country and alt-country infused with rock and pop sensibilities. Resist the impulse to dismiss it as twang. It ain’t.

Listen to “Break My Little Heart in Two” and you think it might just break into 1990’s “I Fell in Love.” Likewise, you can hear echoes of 1993’s “Sweet Meant to Be” and 1995’s “Love Like This” in “Light of Your Love.” Sure, they’re familiar, yet Carter’s sound has matured, moved forward.

Carter also revisits “I’m So Cool,” a rave-up rocker she did first on “Musical Shapes,” her classic 1980 album. It’s interesting to listen to the evolution of her performances.

In 1980, Carter, backed by Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, sounded the sass of youth. The 2006 demo was more of a straight-ahead rocker, with Carter’s lower, huskier voice of experience. On the new version, Carter is feisty as always — kissing us off mid-song with “Ohhh, eat your heart out” — but McFee’s choice of vocoderish backing vocals and a synth-filled finish is curious. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But it’s the only miss among a bunch of solid tunes.

The signature tune of “Stronger” is its distinctive title track, the last cut on the CD. The song and its haunting refrain — “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger/I’ll hold on a little longer/What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” — speaks to the loss of her beloved younger sister, Rosey Nix Adams, in 2003.

Carlene Carter is back. Whether saucy or serious, she still has plenty to say.

Now if we can only get her to come play in Green Bay.


“I’m So Cool,” Carlene Carter, “Stronger” demo, 2006. No longer available.


“Light of Your Love,” Carlene Carter, “Stronger,” 2008. (Not plugging it, but just FYI: If you follow this link instead of shopping at the place I usually link to, you’ll get the album digitally so you can listen right away while waiting for your CD — plus you’ll get a bonus track not on the CD.)

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 20

Tonight, we find three under the tree from members of The Q.

NRBQ — the New Rhythm and Blues Quartet — has been around since the late ’60s, cranking out good-natured, irreverent tunes in a variety of styles.

Having seen them two or three times, I assure you they’re better live than recorded. They’re best seen with an audience that gets them. They played to respectable, enthusiastic crowds at the old Headliners club in Madison, Wisconsin, in the mid-’80s. They played to a tiny, clueless crowd at a summer festival in Green Bay, Wisconsin, just a couple of years ago. I think there were eight of us in the audience at one point.

But let us return to the late ’80s, when I received NRBQ’s “Christmas Wish” as a Christmas gift from the lovely Janet.

When NRBQ recorded this, its lineup consisted of Terry Adams on keyboards, Al Anderson on guitar, Joey Spampinato on bass and Tom Ardolino on drums. These guys were together for 20 or so years, from the mid-’70s to the mid-’90s, and are considered the classic NRBQ lineup.

Though only Adams and Spampinato remain as regular members of NRBQ, it’s not clear whether the band remains a going concern. They’ve played on and off over the last couple of years, with the usual variety of side projects.

Regardless, we have “Christmas Wish.”


“Christmas Wish,” the single, was written by Spampinato. It came out first on a 45, backed with “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and released in 1980 as Red Rooster/Rounder 1006.

Five years later, they rounded up those tunes, added some live bits and other assorted noodling and released it on a 12-inch 45. “Christmas Wish,” the EP, clocks in at a crisp 11 minutes. Typical irreverence from The Q.

“Christmas Wish” Side 1: “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Christmas Wish,” “Electric Train” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” It runs 5:26.

“Christmas Wish” Side 2: “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” “Jingle Bells,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Christmas Wish (Reprise)” It runs 5:34.

All by NRBQ, from “Christmas Wish,” the original vinyl 12-inch 45 EP, 1985. It’s out of print, but was re-released on CD this year as “Christmas Wish: Deluxe Edition.” It’s expanded from eight short tunes to 19 short tunes and presumably is just more of the same silliness.

While doing some research for this post, I came across a couple more holiday downloads at NRBQ’s web site. Head over there for an instrumental version of “Christmas Wish” and a live, slightly less wild version of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” also featuring Evans on the keyboards.

But I digress.

Al Anderson spent 22 years in NRBQ, then left in 1993 to forge a career as one of Nashville’s best songwriters. He wrote tonight’s third tune, which is sung by one of my all-time faves, Carlene Carter. They also teamed up to write “Every Little Thing,” one of her biggest hits.


“Rockin’ Little Christmas,” Carlene Carter, from “A Giant Country Christmas, Vol. 1,” 1994.

In the mail the other day was a note from Brad, who oversees the fine Carlene Carter Fan Club web site. In that note, a little Christmas cheer: Carter, who rarely has played in the States in recent years, has a gig at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York on Jan. 13. Here’s hoping she sees fit to play some more dates. Also, her new album, “Stronger,” is scheduled to be released on Yep Roc Records on March 8. A good match of artist and label.

Again, I digress.

Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds

Feels like 1967 … 1979 … 1992

Sunday was one of those glorious autumn days in Wisconsin — blue skies, mild weather and lots of fall color. It was a pleasant day spent pleasantly in the past.

When I saw late Saturday night that former Packers player Max McGee had died, I knew my Sunday morning would start at work. I’m the unofficial keeper of our paper’s Packers photo archives, so I went in and uploaded a gallery of old photos of McGee to our web site.

For those of us who are Packers fans, Max McGee has been part of the family for much of our lives. Older folks remember Max as a player. His last season was 1967, when I was 10. The vast majority of us remember him as one of the radio voices for the Packers for 20 years, from 1979 to 1998. You spent part of every Sunday afternoon with Max.

That done, I headed down to Milwaukee for a record show.

Last time I went to a record show, six months ago, I found lots of swell stuff but was on a limited budget. This time, I’d set aside some extra money … and, of course, as it turned out, I didn’t find much. So it goes.

Then I headed across town to the corner of Locust and Oakland, not far from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus on the northeast side of town.

The first stop was at Atomic Records, a small indie record store with a nice, if modest, selection of new and used vinyl.


Before I even got into the store, I went through the $1 vinyl bins on the sidewalk in front. Inside the store, I had to decide: Did I want “100 Days, 100 Nights,” the fine new album by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, on CD or vinyl? Oh, yeah. Vinyl, baby.

Then, another easy decision.

We used to think Parthenon Gyros on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, was the best place for gyros. That is, until the late ’80s, when we discovered Oakland Gyros, at the corner of Oakland and Locust.


One piece of pita bread is not enough for all the sliced gyros meat piled on top. Either they’ve increased the portions, or my appetite is not what it used to be. I can’t recall struggling to finish a gyros sandwich as I did Sunday.

So, I got a gyros sandwich to go (Janet likes them, too) and headed home.

That trip home was one last trip back in time. Milwaukee radio station WTMJ — per its tradition on the Packers’ bye weekend — was replaying a memorable Packers game.

This one was from September 1992, with Max McGee on the color commentary. It was when Brett Favre had his first big game, stepping in for an injured Don Majkowski and rallying the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s started every game since.

We remember that game well. It was another glorious fall day.


We were there.

But you don’t really care about that, do you? Didn’t think so.

The oldies that came home from Sunday’s crate-digging expedition included a couple of Tom Jones albums, each with only one or two decent cuts, and neither as good as the last two TJ albums I found. Also got one by the Dennis Coffey Band, but it’s more disco than funk and thus a little disappointing.

And this, from the $1 bins on the sidewalk outside Atomic Records.


It’s “Two Sides to Every Woman,” the second album from Carlene Carter, long one of my favorites. This ever-so-slightly country-tinged pop-rock was recorded in New York in 1979.

John McFee of the Doobie Brothers provided much of the support on this album, playing lead guitar on every cut and the occasional pedal steel guitar. It was the same year he joined the Doobies. (Did you know Carter, McFee and Keith Knudsen co-wrote “One Step Closer” for the Doobies’ album of the same name in 1980?)

Carter wrote or co-wrote seven of the nine cuts on this album. She co-wrote one with Nick Lowe, then married him and moved to England.

This album isn’t as good as the one that followed — “Musical Shapes,” which Carter did in 1980 with Rockpile — Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Terry Williams — as her backing band. Still, it has its moments, including:

“Gold-Hearted Lady” and “Two Sides to Every Woman,” Carlene Carter, from “Two Sides to Every Woman,” 1979. This album and “Musical Shapes” were released on the same CD in 2005.


Filed under October 2007, Sounds

Reunited with old friends

Not long ago, I told a friend I stopped reading No Depression magazine because it was too depressing. All that music and no place to hear it. Thankfully, they’ve added some samples on their web site.

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.


Filed under April 2007, Sounds