It has been almost 12 years since Carlene Carter released an album. The former bad girl of country music has endured a lot of tragedy during the past decade. Her mother, June Carter Cash, and stepfather, Johnny Cash passed away. Her long term partner Howie Epstein followed them. Finally her younger sister, Rosey, passed away in October of 2003. All this tragedy led to a relapse of her sobriety.
Today finds Carlene Carter sober and married to actor Joseph Breen. Today also finds Carlene Carter releasing an album of redemption and ultimately victory.
In some ways Carlene Carter missed the commercial brass ring in the early 1980’s. Her two country-rock albums Two Sides To Every Woman and Musical Shape were a decade to early. They would have fit in nicely with the modern Nashville country sound that has made superstars out of such artists as Shania Twain and others.
Stronger finds a mature Carlene Carter who for the most part has returned to her country roots. Carter’s voice is still sound and her ability to interpret a song is alive and well.
It is the ballads that form the emotional center of Stronger. “Spider Lake” with a high end steel guitar as a counterpoint to Carter’s vocals is a song that puts the listener and hopefully Carlene Carter at ease. “Judgement Day” is a poignant ballad of love lost. The title cut, “Stronger,” is really a eulogy for Rosey and the beginning of the resurrection process for Carlene.
“The Bitter End” is a traditional up-tempo country tune with steel guitar that provides a good counterpoint to the serious ballads. “Why Be Blue” features one of the better vocals on Stronger. :To Change Your Heart” features an autoharp sound which would have made her grandmother, Maybelle, proud.
Carlene Carter does return to her 80’s sound for two songs. “Bring Love” is a joyful song of perseverance in the face of adversity. It has a smooth country-rock beat. “I’m So Cool” was originally released in 1980 and here Carlene Carter gives a rousing, rocking version.
Stronger may not explore new musical territory but it is an excellent and mature effort from a talented individual. Hopefully it will be nowhere near 12 years before Carlene Carter records the next chapter of her life.