Carter Girl | ★★★★★
Carlene Carter proves just how personal, and powerful, a tribute album can be with Carter Girl.
The album focuses solely on songs with family ties as she retools classics by country music pioneers the Carter Family (Gold Watch And Chain, Little Black Train), the Carter Sisters (Poor Old Heartsick Me), her mother June Carter Cash (Tall Lover Man) and her stepfather Johnny Cash (Troublesome Waters, performed as a duet with Willie Nelson). The one original, Me And The Wildwood Rose, is a song Carlene wrote about her late sister, Rosie, and first recorded in 1990.
The material gains poignancy because Carter is the sole survivor of all those she looks to for material. She has recorded Carter Family material in the past, but Carter Girl has a rare power, drawn from memories, tears and years of finding strength in these songs of blood and legacy.
Produced by Don Was, Carter transforms each song to increase its emotional and musical heft. Standouts include a duet with Vince Gill on Lonesome Valley 2003, on which Carlene adds personal verses to a Carter Family classic, and a stark duet with Kris Kristofferson on Black Jack David. Like the songs she's recorded, this is an album for the ages.
Everlasting | ★★★☆☆
Of all contemporary country singers, Martina McBride seems the most well-suited to interpret classic soul tunes. The four-time Country Music Association female vocalist of the year has shown repeatedly that she can wail with sass and find the depth in emotionally complex material.
Still, on her new album, Everlasting, McBride begs comparison with such giants as Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke by taking on their most potent performances and material. Working with producer Don Was, who brings an understated R&B pulse to the songs, McBride leans on vulnerability and purity of tone rather than the growling, rapturous release of the originals.
McBride presents several impressive performances, turning Little Walter's My Babe into a funky, sexy love song and Fred Neil's Little Bit Of Rain into a tender treatise on separation that lightens the dark tones of versions by Linda Ronstadt and Karen Dalton.
That said, these takes lack the fierceness of Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You Too Long and Elvis Presley's Suspicious Minds or the ecstatic joy of Van Morrison's Wild Night and Diana Ross on The Supremes' Come See About Me.
McBride offers up pleasantly listenable versions of baby boomer standards on Everlasting, an album that will please her fans and spice up her concerts but won't replace any of the originals on the mixtapes of R&B fans.
Michael McCall, Associated Press