Nestled in the southwest corner of downtown Nashville is an area known as The Gulch. The name likely comes from the fact that its main thoroughfare, 12th Street, somehow manages to sink below the adjacent interstate leaving you seemingly submerged and trapped. It is home to some of Music City’s most upscale development. However, somehow amidst all the new swanky condos and restaurants, a simple tiny gray brick building still stands housing the Station Inn—perhaps the most famous place in the world to hear bluegrass music.
On this rainy spring night, the Inn was home to a CD release show for Carlene Carter’s Carter Girl on Rounder Records. Carlene, whose career has seen many twists and turns, some not so pleasant, has come out with a marvelous record paying tribute to her prestigious musical family. Her latest is a collection of songs written entirely by Carters. Most were penned by her uncle A.P., by far the most prolific of the clan. There are also tracks written by her mother June, her grandmother Maybelle and her aunt Helen. Carlene also includes a traditional reprise of her own “Me and the Wildwood Rose,” a tribute to her late grandmother.
Before the show started, you could feel a buzz in the room that this night would be something special. I arrived to see Sam Bush noodling around during a brief sound check. Sitting next to me were Elizabeth Cook and her husband, Tim Carroll. Jeff Hanna and his songwriting wife, Matraca Berg, were in the house. There was also a table full of current generation Carters in the nearly packed house.
The show started with a long humorous intro by Jeff Hanna. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band leader spoke fondly of Carlene’s influence on country music and added a funny tale of how she matched him up with his future wife.
Throughout her career, Carlene has worked with some fabulous musicians, but tonight for the most part she was on her own. Although she joked about her struggles on the guitar, she nonetheless did an exquisite job of accompanying herself on these classic songs with her beautiful voice resonating their pureness.
She did get a little help from some of her friends like she did on the record. Elizabeth Cook, cousin Lori Carter, and husband Joe, all joined in at times to provide backing vocals. And one of Nashville’s finest, Sam Bush, reminded us that he’s the best mandolin player in the business.
The evening had the added benefit of Carter being such a gifted storyteller. Her tales about her mom and stepdad alone were worth the $12 price of admission. Musically, the set covered most of Carlene’s new record and not much else. But before retreating to a side stage table to sign CDs and pose for photos, Carlene encored with her biggest hit, 1993’s “Every Little Thing.’
In his opening remarks, Hanna referred to Carlene’s early days as “cow punk.” Looking back, she certainly was inspirational in blending the best of those two genres. But today, with many artists rediscovering the early rootsy sounds, it’s nice for Carlene Carter to remind us of her family’s famous legacy.
Here’s a shot of Carlene and I after the show plus one of us together some thirty years earlier in San Antonio.
- The Bitter End
- Bring Love
- Little Black Train (with Elizabeth Cook)
- Give Me the Roses
- Me and the Wildwood Rose / Will the Circle Be Unbroken (with Lorrie Carter Bennett)
- Poor Old Heartsick Me
- I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight
- Lonesome Valley 2003
- Break My Little Heart in Two
- Tall Lover Man
- Black Jack David
- Troublesome Waters
- World of Miracles
- Blackie’s Gunman (with Elizabeth Cook & Sam Bush)
- It Takes One to Know Me
- Every Little Thing
Carlene Carter—vocals, acoustic guitar and keyboards
Elizabeth Cook—backing vocals
Joe Breen—backing vocals
Lorrie Carter Bennett—backing vocals