Every once in a while I receive an album from an artist that had never crossed my path before, which makes me wonder where have they been hiding all of my life. This brings me to Barbara Carr and her latest release, Keep the Fire Burning.
She began her singing career as a part of the gospel group, The Crosby Singers with her sisters. From there it was on to the soul group, The Petites, who opened for such artists as Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and then on to the lead singer position in Oliver Sain’s band. This led to a contract with the legendary Chess Records label, for whom she released several singles. Since the mid-1980s she has been recording on her own and has now returned with her 13th album.
Her voice is smooth and has a wonderful tone and pitch. It is a wonderful instrument with which to sing the blues, which is the foundation of her sound. The instrumental backing runs the gamut from simple to a funky developed rhythm & blues style, with the brass driving much of the music. Johnny Rawls is on board as a producer and he brings his writing skills to six of the 11 tracks.
Carr has surrounded herself with a tight supporting cast of musicians. Percussionist Richy Puga, keyboardist Dan Ferguson, guitarist Johnny McGhee, bassist Bob Trenchard, and a brass section of Andy Roman, Mike Middleton, and Robert Claiborne can be bluesy, funky, raw, and smooth when needed. An array of background singers fill in the gaps.
The opening track, “Hanging On by a Thread,” may be one of the best 10 songs I have heard this year. It is a cross between Memphis soul and Chicago blues, as the brass and vocals play off of each other. The song flows along and makes you want to hit the back button. It is a performance that just stays with you.
The music flows from an uptempo brass sound to a rawer organ-based soul/blues fusion style. Throw in a sultry cover of the title track and a classic duet with Rawls on the slow “Hold On to What You Got” and you have an album of note.
Barbara Carr has been toiling away for decades. If Keep the Fire Burning is any indication, she has learned her craft well. It’s definitely an album worth seeking out.