april 2008

Carlene Carter
Yep Roc

A decade-plus has passed since we've heard an album's worth of material from Carlene Carter, during which interregnum she was making what Tom Waits has called "the wrong kind of headlines" in her personal life and enduring a true annus horribilis in 2003 with the deaths of three blood relatives (mother June Carter Cash, stepfather Johnny Cash, sister Rosey) and her long-time companion (and producer) Howie Epstein. Musically she's been quiet most of that time, too, at least in the U.S., save for tribute performances here and there. Stronger is more than a pleasing return to form—it's a mission statement that unflinchingly acknowledges the past while moving Carter into a dynamic present tense. Credit for some of the musical muscle and the rock chops brought to bear on same must go to producer (and Doobie Brother) John McFee, with whom Carter collaborated back in 1979 on her Two Sides to Every Story LP. Among the dozen tunes here is a searing hot, stomping remake of Carter's wry 1980 classic, "I'm So Cool" and, finally, her own rendition of "It Takes One to Know One."

Heretofore heard only in Johnny Cash's recorded version, this beautiful, intimate country ballad penned by a 19-year-old Carter as a birthday present for her stepfather looks back on their relationship with palpable love, revelatory insight and a smidgen of regret. But there is much healing going on in the new songs, in the tear-stained personal history chronicled in the rockabilly-tinged barnburner "The Bitter End," in the buoyant, soaring country rock celebrating salvation through love in "Bring Love" and most dramatically in "Stronger," the hymn-like, string-enriched revelations of a "hell-raising angel" who survived it all and has emerged with new purpose. It's great to have her back. Long may she wave.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024