Carlene Carter: Stronger

Yep Roc
Music ••• Sound •••

Known as much for her life offstage as on, country rocker Carlene Carter has released her first collection of new material since 1995, when her 5 years on the country charts (with hits like "I Fell in Love" and "Every Little Thing") came to an end. During the rest of that decade, Carter - daughter of June Carter and '50s country star Carl Smith, and onetime wife of Nick Lowe - slowly drifted away from music. She bottomed out with a drug arrest in 2001, and then came the devastating losses in 2003 of her longtime partner (and ex-Tom Petty bassist) Howie Epstein, mother June, stepfather Johnny Cash, and younger sister Rosey Carter. In 2005, though, she resurfaced, portraying her mother in a Carter Family-themed musical, which in turn led to this welcome comeback effort.

If it's not surprising that Carter sounds a bit reserved here, it's also not surprising that Stronger has its fair share of good songs; she's always been an underrated writer, and thankfully her muse hasn't left her. Tunes like the frisky honky-tonkers "Break My Little Heart in Two" and "On to You" could fit right in with the current Nashville skyline, and the lilting "To Change Your Heart" carries a distinct Carter Family feel, neatly underscored by producer John McFee's allusive autoharp. Here's to unbroken circles.