Doc Carter High Tide for Low Times
A few years ago, Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr borrowed Nelson Algren’s phrase “Never play cards with a guy named Doc” for their song, “My Father’s Advice.”
Artists get to do that. Borrow, I mean.
Sometimes I wish we reviewers could do that, just take phrases that capture a description, retype them, and slap ‘em on the internet. Watch the cash flow in. [Wait a second, you say—some folks do that? Really? Sigh.] Because sometimes the words the PR folks choose are quite ideal in capturing the mood and purpose of an album.
Adam Dawson, one presumes, wrote the following to promote Doc Carter’s first album, out this past summer and listened to frequently before and since:
“The new album showcases Carter’s songwriting over top of an eclectic bunch of sonic landscapes. Touching on folk, country, rock, and a little pop, Carter is comfortable going wherever the song takes him…transcend[ing] Americana, Country, and Blues/Rock genres, evolving into a sound that is quintessentially Doc’s.”
Grabs you, doesn’t it. And really, what more can a keyboard clicker like me add?
But that’s the ‘job.’ Come up with new ways, a cohesive thread, to describe the indescribable. Dancing to buildings and all that.
Let’s start with the cover art. João Gabriel Jack. Striking. Lonely. Intimate. Moody.
The isolation of the troubadour captured on the cover sets the scene for these fourteen songs, each written and sung by Doc Carter, a Corpus Christi songwriter not previously encountered. It doesn’t appear that he plays on the album, leaving that to producer Matt Grundy, keyboardist and Reso/pedal steel player Jeremy Long, and percussionist David Leach.
But these songs? This voice?
Prine Prime stuff. Interesting. A bit new. A lot of what has come before, of course—but also fresh without being ‘out there’ stupid. This is roots music, and not just the pretend stuff we get served too frequently by those who think they know better than us. (They don’t.)
Roots music isn’t rock and roll, although it can have elements of that. It isn’t electronic loops and boops. It isn’t Jesus & the Mary Chain-inspired gothic rap. Roots music—real country, folk, blues, and ‘grass—speaks to our truths, our shared and lived experience. It is about life, the good and bad, the regret, the love, the scary, the reflective. The real. And—at its best, at its roots—it is presented, if striped of gloss and affect, as authentic music that could be played on porches and in country halls.
That’s what Doc Carter is doing and singing about in “Open Your Mind,” “Goldie,” and “Heading West,” the album’s snappy and hopeful opener; should be a hit, that. “Wrapped Around You” is a stellar performance, an earnest vocal with an appealing narrative—nothing comes easy to our hero here—and a guitar lead that distinguishes it within a set of songs that are consistently impressive.
When he sings (in “Fallen Angel”) of his love “Standing on an elephant, didn’t have a care, I call to you—you just stared while the elephant seemed to understand” he is getting a bit Dylan-y, but that’s okay—we can handle poetic whimsy within grounded realities.
“Pour the Wine” is hopeful. Pitifully hopeful as a lonesome loser contemplates memories that have been buffed by time and distance. If “Pour the Wine” is the ‘after,’ “Vida Cana” is the ‘before,’ caught up in the rapture of weightless love. “To The Sea” has a similar feel with slightly fewer Buffett overtones, while “Lucky” is more traditionally folk-troubadour in approach in its expression of gratitude and appreciation.
“Taking It Easy” is similarly positive, light within the often dark, gloomy roots narrative of which we encounter. The sound of this song, and the one that follows, “Stayed For Your Love”, is appealing, echoes of the past, musically, with a look toward a optimistic future.
I don’t know if I would have any success playing cards with Doc Carter. But I’m guessing I would enjoy the evening, and not regret walking away with a bit less folding money in my pocket.