Thursday, January 27, 2011

Carlene Carter Brings 'Every Little Thing' to Joe's Pub

Michael and I ushered in the latest East Coast snowstorm spending a cozy night at Joe's Pub seeing the talented Carlene Carter perform. Although I'm a latecomer to the music of the daughter of Carl Smith and June Carter Cash, I've more than made up for in in recent times, so was thrilled that the uncomfortably hilarious singer/comedian Tammy Faye Starlite persuaded Carlene to return to New York City for a one-off concert so she could open for her.

From the second she walked out on stage with a two-piece band and a shit-eating grin, CC let it be known that she was there to have a good time -- a credo she's willing to admit she has practiced to a fault, even if she insists there are no regrets -- then launched into the upbeat "Sweet Meant to Be" from her 1993 LP, "Little Love Letters." From there, she did a string of songs from her most recent album, "Stronger," including her actual little love letter to hubby Joe Breen (who was seated next to us), "Bring Love," in which the then-lost soul learns to live and love with again with his help after a string of personal losses and wounds, some of which were self-inflicted.

The night was filled with highlights, including a show-and-tell segment where she pulled out a red miniskirt she used to comfortably fit into -- she joked that when she used to tour regularly, she only needed a suitcase the size of a makeup trunk because her clothes were so small!) -- as well as the famed see-through plastic mini she wore at the Bottom Line the night she uttered the immortal "put the cunt back into country" line not realizing her parents were in the audience. "I had undergarments on, but then the whole thing fogged up!" she laughed. "These days, about the only thing I could use this for is a rain bonnet!" (In fact, she looked pretty damn good for a hard-living 55-year-old broad.) An "I Fell in Love" singalong (practically led by yours truly) and lots of self-deprecating humor kept the evening festive, despite some serious song topics.

There were also lots of fun stories about growing up in the Carter Family -- accompanied by a beautiful medley of "My Dixie Darling," "Wabash Cannonball" and "Church in the Wildwood" -- and it was heartwarming seeing how her face lit up even more than usual every time she'd talk about her touring days with the Carter Sisters. (A peculiar tale about how sister Rosie knew how to stealth spit while she sang, and used to take great pleasure in messing with Aunt Helen, who could be very by-the-book on tour, seemed to tickle her the most.)

Her versatility was on full display too, playing the autoharp on the lovelorn song "The Rain" and the piano on the inspirational "Stronger," about little sister Rosie, who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning on a tour bus in 2003.

"Sweet baby sister held the world upon her shoulders / She had a spirit like a twister this life could not hold her ..."

If I were to have any complaints about the show -- and when don't I have a complaint? -- it would be that she didn't do any material off her acclaimed early albums (by far her best stuff), back when Nashville didn't know what to make of the heiress to a country throne who moved overseas and married a British New Wave rocker.

(Did you know that the wedding scenes in Nick Lowe's classic "Cruel to Be Kind" video are actual footage of his marriage to Carlene?!)

Still, whenever someone has been making music for around 35 years, you're never going to be please everyone. For the record: I'd have settled for just one, though -- especially if it had been "Never Together (But Close Sometimes" or "Radio Sweetheart" -- but what can you do?

Afterward, CC came out for a meet-and-greet in the pub's lobby, where I got some nice photos and an autograph. I complimented her on a great show and told her that I had come fully prepared to duet with her on "Baby Ride Easy" -- her duet with Dave Edmunds that is my all-time fave -- which made her laugh and we agreed we'd do it "next time." I then asked her if she had thought about writing a memoir -- "From Maybelle to Maybelline: My Life as the Carter Family Bad Girl" or "From State Fairs to State Prisons: Growing Up Bad in the Carter Family of Good" are titles that come to mind -- to which she replied rather emphatically, "Yes, I am." I asked her if she had an agent and she said no, and I told her I might know people who could help. (I do, and I will be following up on that. This is a book any music fan would love to read!)

As we said goodbye, I asked her if she had read (stepsister) Rosanne's book. She said she hadn't, but that she'd bought herself a copy and then she smiled and said, "I'll bet I know what's in it!" From there, Michael and I -- a little bit drunker, and a little bit happier -- walked out into the blizzard, singing "I Fell in Love" the whole way home. And I believe Mikey -- who had never heard any of Carlene's music before -- indeed did.

Joe's Pub, Jan. 26, 2011, set list:

"Sweet Meant to Be" (Little Love Letters)
"The Bitter End" (Stronger)
"To Change Your Heart" (Stronger)
"Bring Love" (Stronger)
"Break My Little Heart in Two" (Stronger)
"The Rain" (Little Love Letters)
"My Dixie Darling" (Carter Family)
"Church in the Wildwood" (Carter Family)
"Wabash Cannonball" (Carter Family)
"Me and the Wildwood Rose" (I Fell in Love)
"Ring of Fire" (Musical Shapes)
"Hallelujah in My Heart" (Little Love Letters)
"I Fell in Love" (I Fell in Love)
"Every Little Thing" (Little Love Letters)
"Stronger" (Stronger)

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ScottyTheP said...

i loved reading this.

Neal Boulton said...

But she didn't even have the manners to lick the side of your face like I did in my shot with you. Oh wait...

Michael said...

I say, "My darling, you were wonderful last night.

Anonymous said...

No "The Sweetest Thing"? My all time favorite Carlene Carter song.