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Music Review: Deana Carter – The Chain

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How can you tell when a musician is having trouble coming up with new material?  When they release an album of cover songs.  I've never really seen the point in trying to improve on the classics, so I was somewhat skeptical of Deana Carter's all-cover album, The Chain.

Fortunately, Carter did exactly what you should do if you're going to record material made famous by other performers: she put her own distinctive spin in the material, and for some of her efforts, she received the blessing and participation of the very singers who made the songs famous.

Except for a by-the-numbers version of "The Weight," very few of the remakes on The Chain sound like the originals.  Carter's sparsely produced versions of "The Boxer," "Crying" and "Lay Lady Lay," among others, have been altered almost beyond recognition, and that's probably why they sound so wonderful.

It helps that the sweet-voiced Carter could sing the phone book and make it sound beautiful and moving, and the roster of guest stars on The Chain is incredible.  During her duet with Dolly Parton on Parton's "Love Is Like a Butterfly," you're struck by how much they sound alike.   George Jones's appearance on "She Thinks I Still Care" (renamed "He Thinks I Still Care" on The Chain, even though Carter sings some of the other classics from a man's perspective) is downright heartbreaking, with Jones sounding unnervingly like Johnny Cash in his final days.

Except for a bluesy version of John Anderson's "Swinging," which was little more than a novelty song when it first came out, nothing on The Chain improves upon the original.  But Carter's remakes sound unique enough to make the them well worth repeated listening, and that's the most you can hope for with a covers album.

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