This weekend I made the decision to revamp Fervor Coulee a bit, so you’ll notice a few tweaks. I also realized I hadn’t dug into the non-posted archive for a long time. I dug out this review of Carlene’s ‘comeback’ album originally published just before this blog was born. I’ll make an attempt to update a few older reviews as the weeks pass.
Originally appeared in The Red Deer Advocate, August 1, 2008
Fans can be forgiven for believing they were unlikely to hear new material from June Carter’s first-born.
On her first album in over than a decade, Carlene Carter displays the passion that has consistently been present in her country-rock hybrid while instilling depth that was frequently missing from her chart hits. Stronger has more than a little of the spirit of her Carter family ancestors woven within the tracks.
Having spent years out of the spotlight, Carter’s voice is huskier than it was on Little Acts of Treason, her major label swan song. But she displays control and sensitivity throughout, never over-extending her voice.
Her honest treatment of On To You signifies that at fifty-plus, Carter can give those half her age something to consider, and the mid-tempo, country shuffle To Change Your Heart would fit nicely on any of Carter’s mid-90s albums.
While Carter exposes herself emotionally throughout Stronger, the album’s mood isn’t dense or bleak. I’m So Cool is as lively as when she first recorded it almost thirty years ago. Attention to phrasing and delicate instrumentation allows the gentle love song Spider Lace to stand out as a highlight.
But Carter saves the best for last. The album’s intense title track doesn’t mince words, and Carter’s mature performance of what could be a clichéd lyric (“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”) elevates the song. When one considers from where Carter was for much of the last thirteen years- addiction, career bankruptcy, criminal charges, family losses- June, Johnny, sister Rosey, ex Howie Epstein- “this hell-raising angel” is entitled to look back with contented perspective. Stronger should become Carter’s signature song.
Without apologizing for her past, Carlene Carter has documented the challenges, celebrations, and lessons of a hard-lived life on Stronger. Not only Comeback of the Year, Stronger is a candidate for Comeback of the Decade.
2009 update- I just listened to Stronger again, and while it holds up quite well, it isn’t the remarkable ‘comeback’ I perhaps thought it was. In too many places lush overwhelms lust, and that can’t be a good thing for a singer with Carter’s vocal traits. Still, I’m glad the album got made, and I’m just as happy that it brought Carlene Carter some positive press after years of less than stellar news.