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.