Carper cooks up a stew of most American music styles of the last 70 years, and it’s tasty.
With so much Country music trying to sound as AOR as possible, it’s refreshing to hear something that takes its cue from the sounds of 60 or more years ago. Carper’slove of old-timey music roots began early. She played upright bass and sang in her family’s traveling country band in rural Nebraska. Her love of country classics was cultivated as she laid beneath the console listening to her parents’ record collection. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, and more became the soundtrack of her youth. When Carper’s father gifted her a collection of Jimmie Rodgers’ recordings, she began to find her voice and calling as a songwriter.
The album comes alive on the second song ‘Zen Buddha’, which is as danceable a rockabilly piece as you could hope for, blending Pedal steel with a Southern Soul electric piano solo. She goes to church for ‘Ain’t A Day Goes By’. With almost crudely strummed guitar and a gospel organ this is another song that draws on the past to the exclusion of anything remotely contemporary. Carper’s voice comes into its power on this song as well. She has a high slightly nasal quality to her singing, which might become grating after a few songs. She avoids this by putting the singing in different contexts throughout the album. On Ain’t A Day Goes By’ she allows herself to become one of a choir. On the bluesy ’1980 Dodge Van’ she adds a touch of echo and pulls the guitar over her voice in the mix. Everything is unmistakably her but using her voice as one instrument among others puts the focus on the music.
A pure Western Swing number ‘Texas, Texas, Texas’ is next up, and is another to get out of your seat for. She does wry humour in the best of her lyrics. ‘1980 Dodge Van’ and especially ‘Boxers On Backwards’ which while it’s not the most substantial song on the album has you pressing the repeat button just to laugh at the words again. Her cover of Odetta’s ‘Hit Or Miss’ is another piece with Southern Soul leanings and this style is where she finds her best performances. The other stand out from the back half of the album is the ‘Holding All The Cards’, adding 1930s Jazz violin and Clarinet solos to her repertoire.
While the publicity makes a lot of her Western Swing and Old time Country roots, it’s her adoption of a wide range of American music styles that make this album worth spending time on. As she says in closing tune, ‘Hanging on to You’ “They don’t make them like they used to” Thankfully Melissa Carper does.