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Carlene Carter comes to Cutting Room on 'wings' of 'Carter Girl'

Carlene Carter commences her Carter Girl album tour Sunday night at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, and she’s especially excited about her next gig, June 11, at the Cutting Room in New York.

"Carter Girl" CD cover
Rounder Records

“It’s the first time I’m performing as a duo with my guitar player Sean Allen,” says Carter, who plays guitar herself, and in keeping with the Carter Girl concept, autoharp.

After all, she is indeed a Carter girl, a third generation member of country music’s fabled Carter Family as the daughter of June Carter Cash (herself the daughter of the Carter Family’s matriarch Maybelle Carter) and male country star Carl Smith. The critically acclaimed Don Was-produced Carter Girl focuses on classic Carter Family fare while featuring esteemed guests including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Cook and Vince Gill.

Carter’s husband, actor Joseph Breen, will also duet with his wife on Carter Girl cuts “Little Black Train” and “Poor Old Heartsick Me.”

“He was a voice major at Juilliard, and I love singing with him,” says Carter. “It’s going to be really fun.”

At the Cutting Room, Carter, who scored big in the 1990s with country hits “Every Little Thing” and “I Fell In Love,” looks to “try to tell my whole story in music the best I can in the limited time of 90 minutes or so,” she says.

"It should give me enough time to reach back into the archives and do some favorite songs that people ask for,” she continues. “I’ll try to make it like a storyteller’s night and talk about how I relate with the Carter Family music and how it’s intertwined throughout my career in one way or another.”

Carter notes that she’s “a much better musician” because of Carter Girl.

“I really challenged myself and practiced all the time,” she says. “I’m ecstatic about it, because my guitar playing is getting better.”

She’s particularly happy about her improved manifestation of Mother Maybelle Carter’s famed “Carter scratch” acoustic guitar-picking technique.

“I listened lots to my grandma,” she says. “She was so humble about her contribution to the guitar players of the world and the inventiveness of the Carter scratch—playing the melodic line while still keeping the rhythm going. I try to play with a thumb pick and finger picks like she did mostly. I have been doing flatpicking, but when I put those picks on, my fingers fly! It makes me excited to still be learning every day about all of it.”

And Carter, whose makeshift motto is “Autoharp, yes. Autotune, no,” will play some songs on the autoharp—another instrument associated with her grandmother—and others on piano.

“Everything’s still morphing, but it’s like a whole new chapter for me--yet again!” says Carter, whose career has had plenty of ups and downs in the past, but is certainly flying high now.

“Everything is so positive,” she concludes. “I couldn’t have wished for a better reception for Carter Girl. I’ve read how some reviewers didn’t expect to like it so much, with one even saying he thought it would be ‘just a bunch of old Carter Family songs—but it really sounds like her. She’s not resting on the laurels of her musical heritage, but giving it legs and wings.’”

“That’s a great compliment!”

[The Examiner wrote the liner notes for Carter Girl.]

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