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Carlene Carter holds it together by getting "Stronger"

Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, September 19, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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The show did not start promisingly at all for Carlene Carter. She tried singing, but the mike was emitting a lot of unpleasant blips. Somehow that seemed to recall her life as well, which has not always been kind to Carter. While belonging to the first family of country - the Carters - she has endured her personal demons in large doses with drugs, marriages and a once promising career going south in a sometimes out of control existence.

But Carter may be on the rebound again considering her very fine, thoughtful, personal CD, "Stronger," out earlier this year on Yep Roc, and her performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

There is an edginess to Carter, who gives the feeling, perhaps unfair, that she may turn into a train wreck at any moment. Yet, she certainly more than held it together during her satisfying set.

Once the sound problems were ironed out, Carter was in control. Her vocals were clear and full, hitting the high notes easily on the lead-off Sweet Man The song is part of the comeback period for Carter and an ode to her current husband Joe.

Carter smartly emphasized her new material instead of going back into the catalogue, She continued with What Can I Say which she described as about my third marriage. "It's important to keep a perspective on things. It's important to realize that I still believe in marriage. I didn't' want to get divorced. I got the papers."

While there's a lot of sadness with Carter, she quite clearly has a very keen of humor and can easily laugh even at her expense. During the very tender What I Can Say, Carter said "I hope you hear my picking because it's really good," she said joking.

She turned in a good, heartfelt reading of The Bitter End, a song she wrote for her late stepfather John Cash. "but unfortunately he died before I finished the dern thing."

Carter soon turned it up a few notches on Break My Little Heart In Two, a bouncy song driven in part of the pedal steel guitar of her producer and guitarist John McFee, who once upon a time played in the Doobie Brothers. He sounded quite fine on pedal. Carter also once again showed her sense of humor, advising the crowd, "if you get a bad guy feeling, get rid of the sonofabitch."

While the humor of Carter came through, so did the sadness. Me and the Wildwood Rose was about her sister Rose, who eventually died a few years ago in a difficult life also punctuated by drug use. Carter told the story of growing up and taking car rides on the floor boards of the family car, bouncing along. By the end of the song, Carter teared up, receiving big applause.

Carter shied away from her hits except for Every Little Thing, a bouncy driving melody, which remains solid.

Carter closed the nearly hour-long show with the title track of the new CD, a song about Rose. Carter played alone on keyboards. It's a sad song, but also about holding on, repeating the lyric "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Carter has been to hell and back in her life, so it was satisfying to see that she is on the comeback musically as well.