Barton Carroll: Finding ways around disillusion
Photo: Will Austin

It’s Only Love
By David McGee

barton-carrollTOGETHER YOU AND I
Barton Carroll
Skybucket Records

To those who think folk music has to be alt-folk or some other hybrid in order to be relevant in the 21st Century, no stronger rebuke to that notion could be offered than North Carolina’s Barton Carroll, a now-Seattle-based singer-songwriter of uncommon lyrical gifts and a low-flame intensity that commands a listener’s attention even with all the other distractions of modern life. He does this in several ways, foremost among them being his interesting way with words, of finding unexpected routes to his desired destination and doing so with a bit of sardonic, self-satisfied glee (this is a good thing in Carroll’s case).

barton-carrollConsider “Do You Want To Get Out of Here?” Dreamy and ethereal, its soundscape comprised of subdued pedal steel moans, shimmering, gentle electric guitar, and quiet brush drums, the song finds Carroll positing the title query and variations on it (“Do you wanna get something to eat?”) to a seemingly reluctant or wavering partner. Turns out his partner is there only because other plans didn’t quite work out, to wit: “Did you friends go out tonight/Oh, your friends went out tonight/I bet the party was out of sight/But none of them would give you a ride/That puts you here by my side/Do you wanna get out of town?/I need someone to share my frown.” Carroll’s echoed voice is dry and dispassionate, so much so as to raise a question about exactly how desperate he is to leave town, and indeed, near the end he’s worked yet another variation on his query, asking somberly, “Do you wanna go to your place/because I wanna go to your place/we got things that we can face/we can forget them up at your place.” A burst of intensity at the end, in voice and musical thrust, does little to mask a certain hilarity ensuing from this most angular of come-ons. Which rather points out the irony of the album title: Together You and I is not a chronicle of two people’s union, but of two people, together, maybe only for a moment, you and I, and then we’re gone our separate ways. If you’re looking for silly love songs, seek satisfaction elsewhere. If you understand how elusive the real thing is, and how damn frustrating and exalted it can be all at once, welcome in, friends. You’ll hear a familiar Gene Clark-early Byrds tinge to the country-flavored folk drift of “Rich as a Rolling Stone,” and as the song unfolds you will hear of love in a strictly utilitarian mode, as Carroll recounts an assignation with a single mother who has promised her little girl not a good man, a loving father for the household, but “the kind of man I would make my own/would be beautiful as Buddy Holly and rich as a Rolling Stone”—qualifications the utilitarian-minded male protagonist of Carroll’s song ultimately claims he meets. Significantly, in this song Carroll articulates a couplet bespeaking an animating impulse for the album’s narratives: “Down with love songs and down with hopes/down with poets and singers, I swear/when I get to the end of my rope/who will I find there?” This worldview reaches its apex in the quiet shuffle of “Let’s Get On With the Illusion.” If you’ve read this far, you can imagine what the illusion is, and here Carroll reveals himself as an equal opportunity cynic by enlisting as a duet partner and fellow traveler in despair his fellow Seattle singer Anna Lisa Notter, who enters hearty of voice, reporting straightforwardly of the great loves who have found ways to move on without her, and amazingly appeals to the listener to sign up with her: “If you’ve lost faith in the magic touch/maybe we’ve just lived too much/so let’s get on with the illusion.” Carroll is, as you might imagine, totally accommodating of her position, observing of a fellow who has invested too much emotion into une affaire de coeur, “What doesn’t hurt him he don’t need to know/and if you ask me, it’s a good way to go/so let’s get on with the illusion.”

Barton Carroll, ‘The Poor Boy Can’t Dance,’ opening track from his new album, You and I Together

Critics are fond of reciting lyrics, but unfortunately, many an unwary reader has been led astray by interesting words mated to boring music that was never accounted for in a review. In Barton Carroll’s defense, compelling though his lyrics be, he never forgets he’s a musician. He has a friendly, welcoming tenor voice—sounds a lot like the young Pete Seeger, in fact; some whippersnapper critics ascribe a Freedy Johnston quality to it—that is smooth and generally deployed without embellishment, simply stating the facts, ma’m, and subtly drawing you into his world. Some of the music has been described above, but there’s variety in the mix too: “Past Tense” has a striking ‘50s honky-tonk stride about it, right down to its smoky, blurting sax solos (the title pretty much tells the lyrical story); the seductive Hawaiian sway of “Something Good” might well distract you from Carroll’s lyrical mandate of trying to find if anything of worth sprang from his “wicked, miserable past”—which actually has a conditional happy ending that makes the keening steel guitar lines and tender acoustic fingerpicking seem harbingers of a sunnier future (hence the Hawaiian motif?). Despite the title “This Town is Cold,” an arrangement speckled with bright, cascading chimes, a cooing clarinet and a fluttering flute line constitutes a bracing soundscape over which Carroll and Notter affirm their affection for each other as the best defense against the alien territory they inhabit. So if there are no har-de-har-har moments on Together You and I, there is, at root, hope arising from a welter of abiding psychological and emotional afflictions. Rather than see these as debilitating, and cause for all hope being lost, Carroll has found ways around them, however bruised his heart. In the end, a bruised heart is better than no heart at all, and the possibility looms of it being fully healed. The next chapter in this saga should be interesting indeed. —David McGee

Together You and I is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024